20 May Jonathan Cartu Declared: When will dentists re-open in the UK? Here’s what we know
The nature of dentistry doesn’t allow for social distancing from patients, so it came as no surprise on March 24th that practices were closed to stop the spread of Covid-19 as part of a temporary lockdown in the UK.
Following Boris Johnson’s speech on Sunday 10 May, and the government’s guidelines on how the UK will prepare for normality, it is still unclear when dental practices will open. They could open in June along with other retail services, but it’s just as likely they’ll be re-opening on 4th July, potentially alongside hair and beauty salons. As talks regarding loosening the strict measures begin, dentists have urged the government to allow practices to be among the first to re-open.
On May 1st, UK Chief Dental Officer Sara Hurley wrote a letter to dental teams noting that ‘we are fully aware of our responsibility to carefully balance access to care, against the needs to safeguard the public, patients and the dental workforce. The expectation is that the workforce will continue to operate within their competencies, in an assured safe clinical environment using all recommended and essential PPE.’
Following an early lockdown, Denmark re-opened its dental practices on April 20th, having re-opened schools a week earlier. In Switzerland and Norway, dentists went back to work on April 27th, following seven weeks in lockdown. If we’re going by that estimate, UK dentists would have been back to work this week.
Read more: When will UK lockdown be lifted?
The main risk
As well as the social distancing aspect, the main risk in dentistry is aerosol creation when using the vibrating water cleaners. There’s speculation among dentists that the use of aerosols could be prohibited once they initially re-open, particularly as they work so closely to the respiratory tract.
‘Anything that uses water or air is aerosol, going into the surrounding air,’ Dr Mervyn Druian, co-founder of The London Centre of Cosmetic Dentistry, tells us. ‘Currently, NHS urgent dental care centres are leaving 45 minutes between each emergency patient to reduce the risk of spreading infection.’
Re-opening would allow for routine check-ups to take place again, which give dentists a chance to stop minor problems in their tracks, and to spot the signs of oral cancer and greater health issues, problems which could eventually overwhelm the NHS, particularly after what could be 15 weeks without a professional’s opinion. ‘Minor dentistry issues are now turning into major ones due to neglect in care as clients can’t have the restorative treatment in the clinic. It means the NHS is having to extract teeth that could’ve been saved,’ says Dr Rhona Eskander of the Chelsea Dental Clinic.
As such, Dr Eskander was one of 150 dentists that signed a letter to Health Secretary Matthew Hancock urging for a call to action to urgently re-open dental practices due to the rise of dangerous DIY dentistry. Eskander has taken to video call consultations and helpful Instagram Live tutorials during lockdown.
For patients undergoing specialist orthodontic treatment, personalised information on what to do next and how to maintain during lockdown has been vital. ‘I’ve been shipping Invisalign aligners to my patients via UPS,’ says Dr Emma Laing. ‘It’s been helpful for them to allow their treatment to progress whilst we’re in lockdown.’
While a date is still not set in stone, dentists around the UK remain hopeful they can get back to servicing desperate patients as soon as possible. ‘We’re upset there’s been no directive, but I’ve ordered excessive amounts of PPE, gloves, hats, shoe protection and sleeved gowns so that we can open immediately if given the green light from the government,’ added Dr Eskander.
Her clinic isn’t the only one that’s preparing for a safe and speedy re-opening. ‘We have been advised that once we re-open, we can’t have anyone in the waiting room and patients can only come in for their appointments or surgery,’ says Dr Mervyn Druian. ‘‘We’re hoping it’ll be in June, but we’ll wait to see what direction the prime minister and the Chief Dental Officer give us.’