• GPs experience spike in dental-related inquiries 
  • Union urges public not to approach GPs with dental problems
  • NHS England publishes new guidance for dentists, stating appointments should be carried out remotely where possible 

The British Dental Association has criticised NHS England for “dragging its feet” in setting up an urgent care system for dental patients, putting further strain on already overstretched GPs.

At the end of March, dental practices were ordered to suspend all routine treatment, as part of plans to prevent the spread of coronavirus. NHS regions were instructed to set up local urgent dental care centres.

However, GPs have told HSJ they have been experiencing a rise in calls from patients with dental problems, but when they direct them to the urgent care centres, appointments appear to be limited. The BDA has said, in some regions, there is “nowhere” to send patients in need of urgent dental care.

Sources working in primary care and tech said GPs were dealing with a spike in demand from dental patients who did not know where to go.

BDA chair Mick Armstrong added: “The pressure being felt by GPs reflects how little progress NHS England has made on setting up an urgent care system for our patients.

“Officials must stop dragging their heels. In whole regions dentists are taking calls from people in pain, but have nowhere to send them.

“[Personal protective equipment] remains thin on the ground and there is nothing resembling information for the public.”

In a statement, Sara Hurley, chief dental officer England, said 130 of the 165 urgent dental care hubs set up when routine and non-urgent dental care was suspended were now open. She added these were “on top of the existing emergency and out of hours services that are already available, and all are receiving the necessary PPE to ensure dentists are protected as they give patients the care they need”. 

This week, NHSE also released updated guidance for dentists, which stated appointments should be carried out remotely where possible. Patients requesting urgent care should be triaged over the phone to assess their covid-19 risk and they will be allocated a face-to-face appointment “if required”, it said.

The guidance lists the type of conditions the urgent centres would treat, including life-threatening emergencies, post-extraction bleeding and patients with severe dental pain. Meanwhile, the Royal College of GPs has urged the public not to contact their doctors with dentistry related inquiries and, if they cannot contact their dentist, call 111.