How dentists in West Sussex have responded to the challenges of coronavirus

The pandemic has had a profound impact on the way dental practices work, with new safety procedures brought in making dentists’ jobs much harder.

Toby Hancock, chairman of the West Sussex Local Dental Committee, who runs Richmond House dental practice in Chichester, said these included a one-hour fallow time between each patient, increased PPE and more thorough cleaning methods.

When practices first reopened, he said standard operating procedures were changing on a monthly basis, with different agencies giving different advice.

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“No one knew what standards were required and we all struggled to make the best of the situation for the benefit of our staff and patients,” he said.

Toby Hancock and head dental nurse, Tracy Holcombe, from Richmond House dental practice in Chichester

Many dentists suffered financially. “Private self-employed dentists fell through the cracks for government support,” he said.

“Only NHS practices received income, private dentists received nothing and relied on what savings they had while they had their doors closed.”

However he said private dentistry had fared much better than the NHS.

“Necessity to keep dentistry alive forced private dentists to work extra hours, develop ventilation systems and invest heavily in increased safety to allow a higher number of patients to be seen,” he said.

Jessica Barber, dental hygienist from Worthing, wearing full PPE

“This has all come at significant cost and one that can only be recouped from patients paying privately for access to high standards of care and in a timely fashion.

“NHS did not provide any capital funding for this and as such NHS practices have fallen behind.”

He encouraged people to consider signing up to a private practice, which he said could be affordable, adding that his private practice in Richmond House dental practice in South street, Chichester, could give a private patient

an appointment within 24 hours.

Jessica Barber, a dental hygienist from Worthing, agreed that the stringent safety measures had put additional pressure on dentists.

“Our jobs have certainly become much more difficult as we can only manually clean patients teeth with hand instruments,” she said.

“As a practice we’ve invested heavily in risk mitigating procedures, including hepa filtration systems that clean the surgery air, vac stations that remove aerosols, high volume suction whilst we treat the patients.

“We are unable to social distance so require high level PPE and the cost is huge now.”

However she said patients were increasingly looking after their dental health, such as by using an electric toothbrush and interdental aids.

“On a positive note our patients have really stepped up their oral health at home,” she said. “Oral health can reflect your general health, and keep infections and gum disease at bay.”

The British Dental Association (BDA) has called on the Government to help dental surgeries pay for mechanical ventilation equipment, which would help them to see more patients.

In the year to the end of August, 15 million dental appointments have been missed due to the pandemic, while the service has only provided around a quarter of the treatments it would normally have done in pre-Covid times, the BDA said.

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