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Have you experienced dental issues as a result of Covid-19 delays?

  • Jasjit Kaur looks at recent data which suggests a majority of people in the UK are struggling to access dental appointments, and explains what this may mean for their dental health.

    By Jasjit Kaur

Healthwatch England was contacted by hundreds of people between October and December 2020 complaining of dentistry issues in the health service. The most common complaint was a lack of appointments, with the watchdog reporting that access to dentistry remained difficult for more than seven in ten people. But, can a lack of access ever lead to a negligence claim?

Here, we explain the issues, and whether you might have a claim.

What you need to know about the delays

Following concerns voiced by the public, the latest findings published by Healthwatch England looked at 1,129 patient experiences in accessing dental care and reported the following:

  • patients who actively sought dental treatment were told they would have to wait anywhere between a few months to, in one case, two years for an appointment
  • patients are being told they can be treated privately if there are no NHS appointments available. Some had called more than 40 dental practices in a bid to find an NHS dentist
  • access to urgent NHS treatment was found to be difficult for patients with toothache who were told dental pain was not considered an “emergency” as well as and those who were prescribed multiple courses of antibiotics by NHS 111 without being provided any follow-up and/or further treatment.

The report has highlighted that “patients have indicated that dentists have prioritised private care or asked them to pay private fees if they wanted any treatment”. One patient was told that if they were willing to pay for private treatment the odds of success would increase from 60% to 90%. In another case, an individual was offered a procedure for £1,700 which would otherwise be £60 on the NHS.

What effect might delays have on dental patients?

As explained above, NHS dental patients are facing significant delays in receiving treatment, with some appointments being cancelled as dentists were unable to provide care without adequate PPE. As a result, patients are left with the unfortunate choice to either wait up to two years for an appointment or opt for private treatment which, for some, is too costly.

The lack of appointments leaves dentists little opportunity to act early, and research has shown that if patients do not attend their dentist for six months, they may start to develop cavities which, if left untreated, can cause tooth loss. For those who smoke and drink, regular check-ups are vital to catch the early signs of oral cancer. If patients wait up to two years to attend their dentist, their chances of gum disease and/or serious illnesses will increase which can lead to tooth loss or even death (if oral cancer is not diagnosed).

Furthermore, those suffering from loose crowns, broken dentures or fractured fillings may find it difficult to eat, drink and sleep. Without treatment they may be left with mouth ulcers, infections and bleeding gums, while others may be faced with possible tooth loss.

Healthwatch England reported that dentists are advising people to “buy dental repair kits to treat themselves”. In one case, an individual was advised to use a nail file to deal with the sharp edges of a broken tooth. Others have resorted to pulling their own teeth once the pain becomes unbearable.

What to do if you’re experiencing dental issues and are thinking of making a claim

If you are experiencing any dental issues and/or pain, many NHS dental practices have made arrangements for their patients to be triaged and assessed over the phone by a dentist.

An NHS spokeswoman has said “Despite the pandemic, millions of people received dental treatment last year and the NHS has set up over 650 urgent dental hubs so patients can get access to a dentist if they need it.”

Whilst delays due to Covid-19 are unavoidable many patients are still able to see their dentist and receive the appropriate level of care and treatment required. In some cases treatment can fall below the expected standard meaning a patient may require further unnecessary treatment which may be extremely invasive. This can include substandard root canal treatment resulting in loss of a tooth or grossly mal-positioned implants which require removal and replacement.

If you have received dental treatment which you believe was negligent we recommend that you contact our specialist Dental Negligence Team. We will be more than happy to assist and advise you on whether you may be successful in bringing a claim of negligence.

Want to know more?

Call 0800 051 8069

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