It has been a tough number of weeks for the community. Thankfully we seem to be past the peak of the crisis and it is a testament to everyone who followed social distancing rules that we are a little bit closer to normal.
We have been so grateful to all our patients for being so understanding about the current restrictions on Dentistry. We have had many queries over the past few days after reports in Mainstream Media that dental services are to "resume" on 8th June. This post will hopefully give you some more information based on the guidance and instruction that we have received from our governing bodies and Department of Health.
In Northern Ireland, dental practices have never truly closed and we have been providing a limited urgent dental care service (telephone consultations giving advice, prescribing antibiotics, or providing simple extractions) in addition to referring to Regional Urgent Dental Care Centres(UDCs) for urgent pain relief procedures involving handpieces. To date our dentists Kegan, Alison and Jane have helped hundreds of registered and non registered patients with an urgent dental problem*. Kegan and Alison also work sessions at the UDC in Omagh, and Jane has been redeployed to a Community Pharmacy to help ease the burden on the NHS. Our staff have given out countless free temporary filling kits to patients with a lost or broken filling.
*Urgent dental problems are uncontrollable bleeding, spreading infection, trauma or severe pain. This is in keeping with local rules laid down by the NI Acting Chief Dental Officer at the Department of Health.
This was a different approach to England, Scotland and Wales whereby practices were directed to stop ALL face to face treatment, with all urgent treatment carried out at their respective UDC. Those practices have now been advised to treat patients with an urgent dental problem face to face from 8th June, which is what we in NI have been doing all along!
We received updated guidance (02/06/20) from the Department of Health that from 8th June, we should see patients with an urgent dental care problem face to face in the first instance, rather than treating them remotely with advice/analgesics/antibiotics beforehand. Routine dentistry is still restricted - so that means lost/broken filling, broken or displaced crowns/bridge, dentures, asymptomatic chronic abscesses, root canal treatments and gum cleanings cannot be provided yet. Many of these procedures produce an aerosol (water+air+saliva!) which carries a high risk of virus transmission. New protocols have been developed which include enhanced cleaning procedures, resting surgeries between patients (for up to an hour!) and extra PPE which have the potential to place significant pressure on the services we will be able to offer. Doors will be locked and all appointments will continue to be booked by telephone after prior consultation with a dentist.
PPE is still difficult to source and prices have increased tenfold. We have not been given any PPE from Health Service stocks as their own supplies are prioritised for hospitals, GPs and the Urgent Dental Centres.
Restrictions will be eased in a phased approach and please be aware that we have to abide by instruction from the Department of Health in what services we can provide. It is likely that some treatments will be prioritised over others. We understand that it is frustrating to you that some simple dental treatment cannot be provided but we do ask for your patience and understanding in this matter.
So, we are open for emergencies only and currently this is usually advice/script by telephone or extraction if other measures have not worked
From 8th June we are open for emergencies only but will see more patients face to face for assessment of the urgent problem and may provide extraction or onward referral to a UDC if criteria are met.
Non-urgent and routine dentistry is still restricted but we will keep you informed if this changes. We are also compiling lists of patients who require different treatments and will be creating waiting lists on a needs/dental priority basis. Patients who were scheduled treatment in March will also take precedence over those scheduled in subsequent months in order to reduce the backlog of outstanding treatment. We will also need to zone appointment books and have clinics scheduled for certain procedures in order to maximise efficiency.
We hope this helps answer any queries you have about our current status of services at this time. If you have any non-urgent queries please email us on [email protected] in order to keep the phone line free for emergencies.
Thank you and keep safe.