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Crisis in dentistry having domino effect on GP services

The British Dental Association has said whichever party forms the next Government must step up to end the huge knock-on effects the crisis in dentistry is having across the health service

The call follows a vote at the Local Medical Committee Conference in Newport this morning, which saw GPs deplore the state of NHS dentistry, and lament how many colleagues are being inappropriately called upon to prescribe for and treat dental conditions. The resolution states that GPs are not contracted, funded, qualified or indemnified to treat dental conditions, and calls on the British Medical Association to support dental colleagues across the UK achieve fair funding.

GP Leanne Eddie, who tabled the motion, spoke of a colleague who prescribed antibiotics for what that they thought was an abscess, but turned out to be a gingival squamous cell carcinoma, a rare type of oral cancer. She stressed “if GPs continue to handle dental overflow, health inequality will worsen.”

Dental charges and ongoing access problems have long pushed patients from high street dentistry to GPs, with studies estimating around 380,000 attendances a year pre-COVID. Dentist leaders anticipate problems have surged, with unmet need for dentistry now standing at 12 million, or 1 in 4 of England’s adult population – 3 times pre-pandemic levels. Medics are neither trained nor equipped to provide dental care, and these visits typically require a referral back to a dentist. While patients can receive pain relief, or antibiotics for infection, they typically require an operative intervention.

The dental crisis is also piling pressure on emergency departments, and tooth decay remains the number one reason for hospital admissions among young children. The first oral health survey of 5-year-olds published since lockdown showed a growing gap between rich and poor. Widening oral health inequality is set to pile more pressure across both primary and secondary care.

The BDA dubbed the Government’s recent ‘Recovery Plan’ for NHS dentistry as ‘unworthy of the title’, lacking both needed ambition and any new funding. A recent poll of dentists in England by the professional body showed just 3% thought the plan will result in their practice seeing more NHS patients. 43% believed the plan will actually lead to their practice seeing fewer NHS patients. Only 1% of respondents believed the plan can meet the government’s stated objective to provide NHS dental care to ‘all who need it’.

BDA Chair Eddie Crouch said:

“This Government’s neglect of dentistry is having a domino effect across the NHS.

“Millions of patients have nowhere to go, and it’s piling extra pressure on already overstretched GPs, who are neither trained nor equipped to help them.

“It will take real reform and investment to halt the exodus from NHS dentistry and lift these unnecessary burdens from our family doctors.”

Motion from Dorset Local Medical Committee

That conference deplores the existing state of NHS dentistry, and the consequences of poor access for both patients and primary care. General practitioners are being inappropriately called upon to prescribe for and treat dental conditions. Conference therefore:

  1. recognises that general practitioners are not contracted, funded, qualified or indemnified to treat dental conditions and calls upon GPC UK to reiterate this to the Departments of Health and NHS organisations in all four nations
  2. calls upon GPC UK to voice support for our dental colleagues and lobby the Departments of Health in all four nations for an appropriately remunerated dental service including full emergency provision
  3. supports general practitioners in refusing to see or treat dental conditions in line with GMC standards of Good Medical Practice
  4. calls upon the UK government to adequately fund a media campaign educating the general public on appropriately accessing dental health care.