Published: 09:16, 26 March 2020
| Updated: 09:18, 26 March 2020
Health chiefs have scrapped all non-urgent, routine dental care as they fight to halt the spread of coronavirus.
In a letter to dentists, including those at surgeries across Kent, NHS England announced an immediate halt to all appointments which can be safely postponed and ordered new cases to be assessed by telephone rather than in person.
This remote triage will attempt to deliver advice or direction on simple treatments for pain or infection, with only the most serious urgent cases referred to dentists for face-to-face treatment.
The letter to dental practitioners sent yesterday acknowledges that this latest step had to be taken in light of the Prime Minister's instructions to the nation to practice social distancing to slow the spread of the virus.
Its says: "The emphasis has now shifted away from the delivery of routine care while minimising infection risk to a requirement to stop all non-urgent activity in line with the changes to people’s everyday lives that the Prime Minister has signalled.
"This is the time for a collaborative, collective and concerted effort to re-direct our talents and to help support our fellow NHS primary care colleagues when they are at their most stretched. Your skills, your time and your commitment can and will make a difference to our national effort.
"In light of these most recent public health control measures and in recognition of the difficulties that practices are facing including continuing concerns about staff safety, we are making a number of immediate changes to the delivery and operation of our dental services."
"This profession stands ready and willing to support any workable emergency plan."
Dr Shushil Dattani, from Kent Smile Studio dentists in Maidstone, has urged the public to follow the guidelines limiting social interactions to help fight the pandemic.
He said: "This is primarily to protect the public and our staff. We are not to see patients face to face and NHS commissioners are in the process of setting up clinics which will be able to see Covid-19 and symptomatic patients, as well as non-symptomatic patients.
"We await these details, but in the meantime, the profession is urging patients not to attend dental practices, telephone us and we will triage you and be able to guide you on what to do. Limit public interactions unless absolutely essential and follow the government guidelines."
The British Dental Association (BDA) has said its members will require proper support, resources and access to personal protective equipment (PPE) to be able to handle a potentially large number of higher-risk patients requiring treatment.
BDA chairman Mick Armstrong said: "Routine dental care as we know it is over for now. For the safety of dentists and their patients this is the right approach.
"Real energy must now be devoted to developing emergency services. Precious time has already been lost for planning, and colleagues will require the resources to provide it safely. The thousands who experience a dental emergency each day must not end up with another postcode lottery of provision.
"This profession stands ready and willing to support any workable emergency plan and the national effort to fight this pandemic."
Dentists are asked to help the public understand these changes by providing accurate information on their websites, to contact the relevant health authorities should their practice hours be reduced by staff absence caused by the ongoing health emergency.
The letter from NHS England also acknowledges concerns over access to PPE which is now in great demand across the health service.
It says: "We recognise that the issue of staff safety and confidence in PPE guidance is very important for staff engaged in direct patient care. A number of professional bodies have issued their own guidance over the weekend.
"We will continue to be led by the emerging evidence and are currently seeking urgent updated advice through our NHS Infection Prevention Control (IPC) colleagues and Public Health England. We will implement their guidance throughout our urgent dental care services.
"Dental public health colleagues are being trained to fit test FFP3 masks and they will be available in regions to carry out this function."
More by this authorRhys Griffiths