The shocking impact that the coronavirus pandemic is having on people’s dental health is emerging as dentists say they have seen a 78% drop in patient activity during the crisis.
There are now growing fears that the huge drop-off in the number of dental check-ups and minor procedures taking place may lead to serious problems not being picked up soon enough.
Dentists in Northern Ireland say that compared to the same period last year, patient interactions were down 78% for the first six months of 2020/21.
Iain Hoy from the British Dental Association said a forced reduction in activity will “undoubtedly have implications on oral health”, the BBC reports.
He said that with “limited capacity” dentists have been asked to prioritise urgent and emergency treatments.
Official figures show that the number of patients seen by general dental service dentists in Northern Ireland fell from 163,537 in February, to 8,825 in June, and rose again to 49,059 in September.
Hoy said: “Issues arising from routine six-month check-ups, which could have been dealt with at an early stage, could now be easily missed, leading to more significant work being required in the future.”
Many dental procedures are ‘aerosol-generating’, which means they release airborne particles which can potentially spread infection.
Chair of the Northern Ireland Dental Practice Committee, Richard Graham, told BBC News that dentists there are concerned.
He said: “I was on a call with Dr Gerry McKenna, from the Royal School of Dentistry, and he is concerned that they’re not seeing the numbers of referrals that they would expect to see.
“The referrals they’re getting are at a later stage and, like all cancers, early diagnosis is really important for successful treatment.”
A spokesperson for the Department for the Economy said: “The development of funding support schemes to assist businesses and individuals experiencing hardship as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic is a matter for collective executive agreement, with proposals for schemes brought forward by the responsible minister.
“The regulations setting practice guidelines and creating capacity limits for dentistry and other medical professions fall outside the responsibility of DfE.”