Dentists warn of treatment timebomb in the East as many struggle to survive pandemic

You can watch Stuart Leithes' piece on the crisis facing our dentists here

Dentists in the east of England have warned that hundreds of surgeries could be forced to close without more financial help from the government.

Covid-19 restrictions have left dentists fighting huge backlogs - with more than 60 per cent of practices in the East operating at half capacity. 

89 per cent said one of the biggest obstacles is the down time needed in between patients.

Nationally 19 million fewer treatments were offered in England between the March and October, compared to the same period last year.

It means dentists like Amitosh Sahi, from Peterborough, can see far fewer patients.

Dentist Amitosh Sahi cannot treat as many patients as he used to Credit: ITV Anglia

The British Dental Association has told the Department of Health and Social Care that a package of capital funding now offers the only hope of restoring routine services to millions.

In an open letter to Health Secretary Matt Hancock the BDA has set out the case for urgent support.

According to new survey data from practices across the region more than half are now focusing mainly on urgent and emergency cases rather than routine appointments.

The number one barrier to increasing capacity is the time gap needed to clean between patients to minimise risks of viral transmission - with 89% of practices reporting it as a major obstacle.

PPE availability - formerly the key challenge - is now cited by 27% of practices as supplies have improved. Financial and cash flow problems are cited by 59% of practices, and patients' unwillingness to attend by 35%.

PPE is less of a problem now but the downtime needed between patients means dentists can't treat as many people as they would like Credit: ITV Anglia

At present 56% of practices think they may only be able to survive for another year.

Between the March lockdown and September in England over 14.5 million fewer NHS treatments were delivered in 2020 compared to the same period last year - a figure the BDA now estimate to have reached 19 million.

The BDA has warned of widening inequality, as patients face poorer outcomes given the huge barriers to early detection of conditions from decay and gum disease through to oral cancer.

Dentists are calling for urgent financial help from the government, pointing out that the treasury is losing out on the money NHS patients normally pay for their treatment

British Dental Association Chair Eddie Crouch said Covid-19 restrictions had left huge backlogs.

"We now face a Catch-22. New rules could bring back a dose of normality, but come with a multi-million-pound bill for new kit that practices simply cannot afford.     "On paper we have a chance to restore services to millions, but without support from Government it won't translate into better access.  

Eddie Crouch, Chair, BDA

Dentists are also worried they may be missing the signs of oral cancer by not carrying out routine checks on patients.