The chair of the British Dental Association’s Northern Ireland (NI) Dental Practice Committee has said that the future of the region’s dental services now “hangs in the balance”, explaining that it will be impossible to sustain health service dentistry without support from government.

Richard Graham noted that it seems thus far as if the message from the government is on budget constraints, but during this period of anxiety and uncertainty, the Department of Health must do all it can to make sure the dentistry sector makes it through the pandemic in one piece.

“Practices our communities depend on now face an avoidable catastrophe. Dental services need to be prioritised in the Rebuilding of HSC Services. Dentists need support, and a conversation must start on finding a new way to deliver care in the ‘new normal’ to restore confidence in the sector,” he went on to say.

Dental practices are set to resume in-person services in June – but at a fraction of the capacity they were operating at before the pandemic, restricted by PPE shortages and costs, as well as social distancing requirements and decontamination guidelines.

High street services will be severely affected by lower patient numbers and higher costs, and the system under which the service operates – where dentists are paid on the basis of delivered treatments – will not be able to cope with a predicted drop in patient numbers unless the government either changes the model as it is or provides long-term support.

However, the Department of Health has indicated that current support packages could potentially be wound down after August, with the provision of future support subject to the “confines of the dental budget”.

From June 29th, dentists will be able to offer non-urgent care to members of the public, while aerosol-generating procedures using high-speed instruments can resume from July 20th. In England, the majority of practices that have reopened are operating at less than a quarter of their capacity before Covid.

Recent research shows that twice as many patients would put off routine dental appointments because of concerns over coronavirus, while one in three UK adults plan to visit the dentist less frequently after lockdown.

Half of all adults will delay or cancel planned treatments if fees increase because of the cost of personal protective equipment, while 80 per cent believe that both dentists and hygienists will need to work hard to reassure people that practices are safe and hygienic.

Communication with patients is key in this regard but it’s important to ensure that messaging is consistent and that you’re letting people know exactly what you’re doing to prevent transmission and protect your clients.

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