Dental services in Northern Ireland are “broken”, while morale among dentists has collapsed, it has been warned.
he British Dental Association has issued a depressing assessment of the state of services and called for immediate action from health officials to ensure the public can continue to access NHS dentists in the future.
The General Dental Services Statistics for 2020/21 show the volume of dentistry delivered since April 2020 was less than a third of usual levels, with over 3m fewer treatments delivered to adults and children.
Meanwhile, just 40% of patients were seen compared to the previous year, with over 440,000 fewer adults and nearly 70,000 fewer children.
Dentistry has been hit by the imposition of strict new infection prevention control measures, such as social distancing, additional cleaning, and the introduction of fallow time – a mandatory break between patients to allow any infected air to clear from a surgery.
This means activity is still reduced to around 40% of pre-Covid levels.
The BDA has warned that oral health inequality in Northern Ireland is set to widen as a result of the pandemic.
It blames a combination of disruption to dental services, suspension of public health programmes and the impact of lockdown diets.
Richard Graham, chair of the BDA (NI) Dental Practice Committee, said: “A service long teetering is now broken, and will require nothing less than a full rebuild if it’s ever going to meet demand from the hundreds of thousands who have missed out on needed care.
“Morale across the profession has collapsed. Things were barely sustainable pre-Covid, and now many colleagues simply cannot see a future providing Health Service dentistry.
“Our message to every MLA, candidate, and party is simple – it is high time to give oral health the priority it desperately needs, and to build back better.”
A Department of Health spokesman said Covid-19 safety measures, which have impacted on waiting lists, will be eased as soon possible, while the Health Minister has asked his officials to establish a general dental services rebuilding stakeholder group, which will help ensure necessary changes are put in place as quickly as possible.