Around 19 million NHS dental appointments have been missed due to coronavirus guidelines restricting services, dentists have warned.
In a letter to Matt Hancock, the Health Secretary, the British Dental Association (BDA) has called on the Government to invest in practices to help them increase their capacity and provide vital care.
Nearly three quarters of practices are operating at half their pre-pandemic capacity, according to a survey carried out by the BDA, with nearly two thirds (63 per cent) reporting that they are focusing on emergency cases over routine dentistry.
The “major obstacle” to increasing capacity is “fallow time” – the mandated time needed between patients to minimise risks of coronavirus transmission – dentists say.
And despite new regulations allowing dentists to cut this wait time down from 60 minutes following an Aerosol Generating Procedure (APG) to potentially as low as 15 minutes, 57 per cent said they lack the funds to invest in the equipment required to do so.
As a result, tens of millions of patients are missing out on treatment, according to the BDA.
Data obtained through freedom of information requests show there were around 14.5 million fewer treatments delivered by NHS dentists in England between April and August 2020 compared to the same period last year – where monthly delivery was around 3.3million on average.
According to the BDA activity has not exceeded a third of normal levels for September and October, bringing the number of missed courses to an estimated 19 million.
“Covid-19 restrictions on patient throughput, set by government, are placing significant limits on the number of patients we can treat for the foreseeable future. Your support could help bring tens of millions of patients back through our doors to get the care they need,” the letter to Mr Hancock states.
Eddie Crouch, BDA Chair, said coronavirus restrictions have left dentists “firefighting with huge backlogs”.
“We now face a Catch-22. New rules could bring back a dose of normality, but come with a multi-million-pound bill for new kit that practices simply cannot afford,” he said.
“On paper we have a chance to restore services to millions, but without support from Government it won’t translate into better access.”