The British Dental Association (BDA), a trade union for dentists, has warned that patients who are desperate for dental care during the COVID-19 pandemic may take matters into their own hands if they’re unable to make an appointment to see an emergency dentist.

Speaking to the Independent, Mick Armstrong, BDA chairman, said that the continued closure of dental practices across the UK means that people could decide to “take matters into their own hands”.

“Many dentists are taking calls from patients in agony, but have nowhere to send them,” he explained. Mr Armstrong added: “Whenever access problems emerge people with toothache take matters into their own hands. It’s inevitable many desperate patients will resort to ‘DIY dentistry’ unless we see rapid action from government.”

One of the main issues facing UK dentists at present is the lack of appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) to keep them safe when seeing patients during the COVID-19 outbreak.

According to a BDA poll carried out earlier this month, 54 per cent of dental practices in England said that shortages of PPE were impacting the operational status of sites. By contrast, just one in five dentists in Scotland are reporting the same problems.

The survey also revealed that 62 per cent of dentists in England report that their sites are active, although this is at 98 per cent in devolved nations. What’s more, over half (58 per cent) of the dentists surveyed said that they don’t feel fully protected at the sites they’re working at.

Mr Armstrong revealed that some dentists had even resorted to using scuba diving masks to help keep them safe due to the shortage of PPE.

The BDA also noted that, among those practices that are open, the number of patients that dentists are able to see each day has fallen considerably due to social distancing guidelines and the stringent decontamination procedures required. It noted that, before the pandemic, dental practices were seeing an average of 40 patients per day. This has dropped to eight per day.

According to the organisation, where aerosol generating procedures are carried out, surgeries need to stay out of use for an hour post-treatment to minimise the risks of cross infection.

Dentist Luke Thorley, who owns Royal Wharf Dental in south-east London, told the Mirror that the majority of dentists are desperate to reopen their practices and start seeing patients again. He also revealed that some dentists he knows have been getting phone calls from patients asking for advice on how to carry out procedures themselves.

Dr Thorley also criticised the slow speed with which the government was opening its Urgent Dental Care hubs, noting that even when these hubs are open most are only providing tooth extractions and these may not be appropriate for every patient.

“Patients and dentists are in the dark. Quick access to emergency care is not available across the whole country,” he told the newspaper.

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