The "Collapse" in Dental Care During the Pandemic Leaves Children Suffering in Pain
As a result of families not being able to access essential treatment, a record number of extractions of rotten teeth is expected to clear the backlog.
Figures released recently show the number of operations on children to remove rotten teeth fell by 58% in 2020-21 as hospitals concentrated on Covid pressures.
Dentists have said that the figures did not mean a fall in demand for the procedure but that people were not able to access such care as a result of the pandemic.
This follows warnings of “dental deserts” in some parts of the country, with patients struggling to find dentists taking new NHS patients in Somerset.
The British Dental Association urged ministers to act decisively to deal with the backlogs, expressing concerns that tens of thousands of children have been left in pain.
Date obtained from the Office for Health Improvement and Disparities show 14,615 extractions were performed on decayed teeth in 2020-21 among children aged 0-19. This is a significant reduction from the 35,190 extraction procedures carried out on the same age group the year before the pandemic.
‘Thousands Left In Pain’
Chairman of the British Dental Association’s (BDA) England community dental services committee Charlotte Waite, said: “Tooth extractions among children have collapsed, but the level of demand hasn’t gone anywhere. Covid has simply left tens of thousands in pain, potentially waiting years for treatment they desperately need.”
The BDA urged health officials to provide “full disclosure” on the waiting times children are now facing, as well as a properly funded plan to clear the backlog.
Dr Waite said: “Government has yet to offer real clarity on the scale of the backlog, or a credible plan to tackle it.”
The data shows that the likelihood that children from the poorest areas will have extractions is three times more than those from wealthy communities.
Figures also suggest that more than 12.5 million NHS dental appointments for children have been lost in England since lockdown.
Somerset The Worst ‘Dental Desert’
Patients in Somerset say they are being left in agony and facing bills of more than £1,000 as they are forced to go to the private sector due to the absence of check-ups and treatment. Patients groups also said they had been told there were no NHS dentists available across the county in what is said to be England’s starkest case of a “dental desert”.
Healthwatch Somerset said 33% of the calls it received in the three months to February were about problems accessing NHS dentistry – a lot of them concerning children, pregnant women and people who cannot afford private dental care.
Gill Keniston-Goble, a manager at the patient champion organisation, said that in England’s eighth largest county: “People are telling us they have called many dentists but cannot find one taking new patients.”
In a recent survey conducted to find a dentist online, none of the 89 NHS-linked surgeries surrounding Taunton and Bridgewater, the two main towns in the county were free to take any adult patients.
Furthermore, a third of the surgeries within an 18-mile radius of the towns said they were “not taking any new NHS patients at the moment”, two were taking patients under the age of 18, 25 had not updated their status, and 29 were via NHS referral only, which is for emergency care.
‘Tooth Decay In Children Has Not Simply Disappeared’
Dr Nigel Carter, chief executive of the Oral Health Foundation, said: “To report that childhood tooth extractions in England have shrunk is a smokescreen towards the reality of what is happening. Tooth decay in children has not simply disappeared over the last year, which means that thousands of young people are going without the treatment they need.
“It is unfair and unjust for just one child, let alone thousands, to be put in pain because they are unable to access the care they deserve.”
A spokesperson for the Department of Health and Social Care said: “We have provided £50 million to fund up to 350,000 extra NHS dental appointments and we are growing the workforce so people can get the care they need.
“Dentists prioritised vulnerable groups and urgent care throughout the pandemic, while continuing to provide free care to groups such as pregnant women, young people, and those on low-income benefits,”
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