Some people have felt forced to pull out their own teeth because they have felt unable to access dental services during the pandemic, a watchdog has warned.
A new report has laid bare the stark consequences of people being unable to access dental services during the coronavirus crisis.
Two extreme examples include people pulling out their own teeth.
Healthwatch England said it had received an “unprecedented” rise in calls and complaints about dentistry.
Its new report on dentistry sets out the serious consequences of people not being able to access care.
“People who struggled to access dental treatments during the pandemic often experienced inconvenience, anxiety, worsening problems requiring further treatment, or worse,” the authors wrote.
“Some people were left in debilitating pain, while others feared that they would lose their teeth when they couldn’t access care.”
The authors wrote: “We have heard a few extreme cases when lack of access to dentistry pushed people to take steps which put their health and wellbeing at risk.
“A resident from Derbyshire shared that their son who has learning disabilities pulled their teeth out as they couldn’t access a dentist.
“In another case, Healthwatch Portsmouth heard about a person who used pliers at home to remove their own teeth.”
The authors also set out how a child needed extractions “due to delays in treatment”.
“In one case, a child who needed specialist treatment before lockdown ended up having extractions due to delays in treatment,” the report states.
Some people’s dental problems were so bad they “struggled” to eat and speak, the report adds.
The other consequences the watchdog was told about include:
– Young adults unable to get braces.
– Pregnant women entitled to free NHS dental care who were unable to register or book an appointment with an NHS dentist.
– Parents being worried about their children’s dental health.
– People with ill-fitting dentures or broken fillings who developed ulcers, bleeding gums and infections.
– People passed from one service to another without addressing their problems.
– The watchdog has been told that in some instances when practices reopened in June, some dentists appeared to be prioritising private patients over NHS ones.
Dentists have struggled to return to pre-Covid levels of care with new requirements for personal protective equipment, social distancing and requirements after performing so-called “aerosol generating procedures”.
Healthwatch England said that it saw a 452% increase in calls and complaints about dentistry over the summer.
It has called for more to be done to understand the long-term impact on people’s dental health caused by the delays to care that have occurred during the Covid-19 pandemic.
And it has called on the Government and NHS to address the problem.
Sir Robert Francis QC, chairman of Healthwatch England, said: “Even before the pandemic, people were telling us about problems in accessing NHS dental appointments but since the start of the summer these reports have hugely increased.
“If we don’t improve access to NHS dental care, not only do people risk facing far greater dental problems in the future but it also puts pressure on overstretched hospitals and GPs.
“Untreated dental problems can lead to pain, infection and the risk of long-term harm, which is comparable with other medical conditions.
“Health and care services are working hard to deal with the pandemic, but we believe the Government and the NHS should give more attention to resolving both long-standing and Covid-related issues in dentistry.”
The British Dental Association (BDA) said that between March and the end of August, 14.5 million fewer NHS dental procedures took place in England.
Because of the new restrictions on dentists, seven in 10 practices are now operating at less than half their pre-pandemic capacity, the BDA said.
“For many people dentistry effectively ceased to exist at lockdown, as a system already in crisis was pushed ever closer to the brink,” said BDA chairman Eddie Crouch.
“The arrival of Covid vaccines will not solve the problems facing millions of our patients.
“Sadly ‘business as usual’ in dentistry means postcode lotteries, failed contracts, and underfunding.
“The Government says the mantra is ‘build back better’. It must apply that logic to dental services.”
An NHS spokesperson said: “The NHS has nearly 25,000 dentists offering care – the highest number on record – and during the first wave of the pandemic over 600 urgent dental centres were set up so patients could access urgent treatment, but like other services there is no doubt that of course the first wave disrupted some services.
“NHS dental practices remain open for business and dentists are seeing more patients for face-to-face appointments every month, and while practices are understandably prioritising urgent care alongside recalling patients to complete outstanding dental care, if a patient is worried about their teeth or oral health, or that of their child, then they should call their dentist.”