The Chair of Northern Ireland Council reflects on how the Coronavirus outbreak has reaffirmed her belief in the vital role of dentists and dentistry.
In the early days of the coronavirus outbreak, my employing Trust issued staff with a printable sign for our cars, and each of the four words on it resonated with me: Essential health care worker. In the past six weeks, dentists all over the country have stepped up to embody the best of this description.
Dentistry is ESSENTIAL for the health of our population. The influence of oral health and wellbeing on the general health of the body is well documented. Dentists and dental health professionals have a vital role in the health of our society, so we need to collaborate with others and proactively find a way to get dentistry working beyond COVID-19. In the meantime, dentists have demonstrated their ability to work in the challenging environments of urgent care centres that are being set up all over the UK. We’ve worked quickly to provide our patients with urgent and emergency care. It isn’t an ideal situation, but it is an essential short-term fix that gives us a chance to look towards the longer-term solutions.
Dentistry is a crucial part of the wider HEALTH and CARE agenda. Ask anyone who has suffered bad dental pain and they will be testament to that. COVID-19 hasn’t stopped people having other diseases and acute problems. As the weeks go on, we will see that healthcare will be constantly challenged to provide care for health conditions not related to the coronavirus. As someone said to me this week, “COVID doesn’t stop cancer.” Dentists have so many transferable skills that we can offer the strained healthcare system, until such times that we can return to our own jobs. I hope that once this crisis is over, this will help others to heed our calls for dental health to be included in discussions of healthcare funding and planning.
Finally, we are all WORKERS in a system that depends on each person stepping up to the plate and playing their part. We are skilled workers who have ideas and thoughts that collectively can bring about change. While we grapple with the pandemic and try to reach solutions to support dentists being able to work safely and effectively, the BDA is working to make our voices and concerns heard on a national and regional level. Within the BDA, each of the expert Craft Committees have experienced knowledgeable members who care for the profession and want to make a positive contribution. As a clinician within a Salaried Service I can’t pretend to fully understand the anxiety and pressure being felt by colleagues working in and running general dental practices. Dentistry in this country has never faced a bigger challenge. As Martin Woodrow, Chief Executive of the BDA, has said “the financial sustainability of all dental practices is key to getting through this.”
On Friday, I was pleased to see so many of the dental crafts represented at the Northern Ireland Council meeting. This crisis has shown just how much we rely each other, and how important each of our roles are. Whether it is GDPs treating patients in Urgent Dental Care Centres, nurses undertaking vital COVID-19 testing, CDS practitioners redeployed to care homes - testing and treating residents, hospital dentists and oral surgeons triaging and treating emergency patients or dental academics providing online teaching and assessments to students.
We are ALL essential health workers.
Chair of Northern Ireland Council, BDA