A Member of Parliament says the access crisis in dentistry was ‘turbocharged’ by the COVID-19 pandemic.
MP Judith Cummins yesterday secured a debate on access to dentistry and oral health inequalities, adding that its necessity is now ‘more urgent than ever’.
Speaking in Parliament, she urged the government to make progress with dental contract reform before inequalities worsen.
She dubbed it ‘the single most important thing that the government can do’, adding that it should be carried out with a view to more prevention.
‘Dentistry is very much seen as the Cinderella service of the NHS,’ she said.
‘Clearing the backlog will be a considerable challenge. Even in the best of circumstances it would take years, but unfortunately we are not in the best of circumstances.
‘As people who have tried to get dental appointments since June know, dentists are operating with considerably reduced capacity. About 70% of practices are operating at less than half their pre-pandemic capacity.
‘The primary reason for that is the requirement for a period of fallow time after each appointment to allow any aerosols that may have been produced by treatments such as drilling or even scale and polish to settle, and then for a long deep clean to take place. The fallow period can be for up to one hour.’
She added: ‘The practices least likely to have had the appropriate equipment tend to serve the most deprived communities. They are also the least likely to be able to afford that investment, increasing oral health inequalities further.
‘That vicious cycle of underinvestment in our most deprived communities feeds inequalities in health outcomes.’
Jo Churchill, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, agreed that dentistry has faced especially challenging obstacles following the onset of the pandemic.
She added that as a result, ‘new’ dental risks were brought about. This meant it was vital that the safety of dental teams were put first at the start of the year.
Now, she says the primary focus is rolling out dental provision as quickly and safely as possible.
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