Senior Community Dentist Charlotte Waite calls on the government to take action to ensure the most vulnerable patients are not left waiting for urgent tooth extractions.
As healthcare professionals we all understand the challenges being faced by Government and commissioners during these difficult times.
However, the scandal of increasing waiting times for tooth extractions for children and vulnerable adults with tooth decay in England cannot be left unchecked. We are frustrated and angry that patients are being let down.
That’s why we have partnered with Mencap and other stakeholders to write
an open letter to Matt Hancock and demand an action plan to ensure that patients are not left waiting in pain.
Capacity in the CDS has been significantly reduced
“From March to May 2020 over 50,000 children in England had surgery postponed.”
Our profession, like many other healthcare professions, is facing a backlog of patients as we catch up post-lockdown. In the CDS our waiting lists impact on hospitals as it's where we carry out our general anaesthetic procedures.
Due to additional COVID-19 control measures, and social distancing guidelines, capacity on these lists has been significantly reduced to around 50-75% of pre COVID-19 levels. In some areas waiting times were already longer than 12 months prior to the pandemic.
Community dental services need sufficient access to operating theatre time to cope with this backlog. However, we know that from March to May 2020 over 50,000 children in England had surgery postponed.
This is a crucial issue that has needed addressing for a long time and the pandemic has only accelerated the urgency.
We need an urgent plan to tackle backlog
“The longer people wait with untreated tooth decay, the greater impact it will have… on their general health and wellbeing.”
In order to plan for the future we need to know the true scale of the problem.
We have long suspected that extractions are underestimated in current official statistics. Public Health England has done the work and we ask for this report to be published as a matter of urgency. Tooth decay is the number one reason for hospital admissions among children aged 5-9 years old in England despite it being an entirely preventable disease.
This problem cannot simply be swept under the carpet. The longer people wait with untreated tooth decay, the greater impact it will have, not only on their oral health but their general health and wellbeing. Tooth decay affects eating, sleeping and mental health, all of which can lead to time off work or school.
We must not allow our patients to be let down
“The government needs to take dentistry seriously and ensure oral health is included in all public health planning.”
Many of the patients we treat have a complex mix of medical conditions, including autism and learning difficulties. These patients are amongst the most vulnerable in society and we must not let them down. We must ensure that their voices are heard and where it is needed, be their advocates.
Oral health inequalities continue to widen. As we have previously highlighted in the
Children’s Oral Health Survey data, there is a tenfold difference in the severity of tooth decay between the richest and most deprived communities. This figure is truly alarming.
We have made it clear that the government’s obesity programmes are not enough on their own. The government needs to take dentistry seriously and ensure that oral health is included in all public health planning.
The government needs to act now.
Chair, BDA’s England Community Dental Services Committee