Revealed: How coronavirus is affecting St Albans dentists
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The coronavirus lockdown has taken its toll on businesses across the district, including our dentists, who appear to be a forgotten link in the healthcare chain amid the pandemic.
A shortage of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), fears over infection, and a lack of clarity over financial support have all had an impact.
Dr Ali Abdellatif, who works at Regency House in St Peter’s Street, said that due to the lack of availability of PPE in the UK, both NHS and private dental surgeries have been advised to close down by the Chief Dental Officer although a few surgeries have been permitted to continue as urgent dental care centres.
He explained: “Initially, we were asked to stop all ‘aerosol generating procedures’ like drilling in the mouth, which is a lot of what we do. Then they asked us to close down completely.
“Aerosol generation is when a cloud of saliva and particles is created when the dentist is drilling or spraying in the mouth. Doctors and dentists have always known about aerosol creating a potential risk which is why procedures are in place to minimise the risk of transmission.”
He is concerned about those people who have dental emergencies and are in pain, including patients who require treatment for extractions, broken teeth, abscesses and gum infections. Many also cannot reach the urgent care centre in north London, which highlights the need for a local service.
Dr Abdellatif feels that dentists can make a huge contribution to the health of the community: “Dentists generally have to fend for themselves. The use of PPE is being prioritised for hospitals, understandably. At my surgery we have a few pieces of PPE remaining but we are staying closed as we have been advised.”
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The dentist said that the majority of dentists would love to get back to what they do which is healthcare.
“It’s a shame... some dentists agree that they should remain at home as they are worried for themselves and worried about spreading coronavirus. Another group are feeling a bit left out. We are after all a healthcare profession and our patients need oral and dental healthcare.
“We are also highly trained in cross-infection control so we are more than capable of being very rigorous and protecting ourselves and our patients.
“Now we will up our game by introducing air filtration and extraction devices to make sure that the air surrounding the dentist, assistant and patient is clean and free of viruses and bacteria. For those reasons, once more PPE is available and surgeries are equipped with air filtration devices, dentists should be able to get back to doing what they do best which is healthcare for the public.”
Some dentists have been deployed to Nightingale Hospital to use their medical expertise and skills to support other colleagues, and Dr Abdellatif said he would really like to be of use in these times of crisis: “I have volunteered to join anything that will help in the effort, even though I am asthmatic, I would like to help in any way.”
In a statement the General Dental Council said: “The safety of patients and of members of the dental team through rigorous infection control is clearly of paramount importance.
“One consequence is that patients cannot currently be offered the range of treatment they would normally expect.
“Urgent care arrangements are being established by the health services to create settings in which higher risk treatment is possible, including aerosol generating procedures.
“These arrangements should be used as an important contribution to overall risk reduction.”
They also refer to the financial difficulties dentists may face as a result of safety measures. Adding: “We are pleased to see that there is now much greater clarity about the financial support available to NHS contract holders, at levels which underwrite a substantial proportion of practice incomes and allow them to continue to pay staff.
“But we also recognise that mixed practices and private practices will get limited or no benefit from that, though it is now clear that practices can make use of the furlough scheme. Some will also be able to benefit from government support for self-employed people, though the cap on earnings will mean that many associates will not be eligible.”