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​Face mask shortage risks 'imminent disruption' to UK dental services

13 February 2020


The BDA has warned the shortage of face masks sparked by the coronavirus outbreak now poses an imminent risk of disruption to UK dental services, unless rationing is eased. 

The Association reports it has been inundated by calls from member practices unclear on their options, in the wake of panic buying and supply problems. The People's Republic of China is the world's leading manufacturer of sanitary masks.

Based on contact with leading suppliers the BDA reports rationing has now left some practices unable to order more than 2 boxes of masks per day (ie: 100 masks) irrespective of their size. Other suppliers have imposed higher limits.

The Association estimates a single surgery in a typical NHS practice, seeing around 28 patients per day, will be getting through five boxes of masks a week. Private practices which typically see fewer patients, are consuming half as many, around 2.5 boxes a week. 

While smaller practices may be able to maintain viability on permitted orders of 10 boxes per week (2 per working day), even 'two-chair' NHS practices with such limitations could use up their allocation completely. The BDA is dealing with enquires from practices with up to 13 chairs. 'Single-handed' practices make up less than 20% of all UK providers. 

Under the current guidance, Health Technical Memorandum 01-05 (HTM 01-05), all dental professionals operating in England should wear Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) including disposable face masks, clinical gloves, household gloves, plastic disposable aprons, and eye protection. 


While similar rules apply in Wales and Northern Ireland, in Scotland practitioners are permitted to use disposable masks or reusable visors interchangeably. 

The BDA is working with government, the NHS and industry to try to ensure that surgeries can maintain supplies of face masks. The Association will ask NHS England and the Welsh Government to invoke force majeure clauses in NHS contracts should the situation deteriorate further, in order to protect multiple practices left unable to meet their contractual targets in the event of disruption.

BDA Chair Mick Armstrong said:

"In recent weeks dentists have been hit by panic buying and rationing that has left many larger practices with few options.  

"Our abiding interest is the safety of our patients, who face imminent disruption to their care. 

"Unless we see a rapid increase in supply dentists without face masks will have little choice but to down drills."


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