The impact of Covid-19 on dental services
The Covid-19 pandemic has caused a severe disruption to dental services in Scotland, leaving many NHS patients without access to regular or urgent care. According to a BBC investigation, four out of every five NHS dentists in Scotland are not accepting new adult patients for treatment on the health service. In nine local authorities, there are no dentists taking on adult NHS patients at all. Meanwhile, nearly 80% of NHS practices are not accepting new child patients.
The pandemic has also created a huge backlog of patients who need routine or complex dental work, such as fillings, root canals, crowns, or implants. Many of these patients are experiencing pain, discomfort, or embarrassment due to their dental problems. Some of them have resorted to pulling out their own teeth or using DIY kits to fix them.
The Scottish government has acknowledged the challenges faced by the dental sector and has provided additional funding and support to help dentists resume normal services. However, dentists say that the current NHS fees and regulations are not sustainable and do not cover the costs of providing high-quality care. They also say that the strict Covid protocols inside practices limit the number of patients they can see and the types of treatments they can offer.
The shift to private dentistry
As a result of the financial and operational pressures, many dental practices in Scotland have decided to abandon the NHS and switch to private dentistry. This means that they can charge higher fees, offer a wider range of services, and have more flexibility and autonomy over their work. Private dentistry is not regulated by the government and does not have the same waiting lists or restrictions as the NHS.
However, this also means that many NHS patients are left without a dentist or have to pay more for their dental care. Some patients may be able to afford private treatment, but others may not be able to access it due to their income, location, or personal circumstances. For example, some patients may have complex medical conditions that require specialist care, or some may have dental phobias that prevent them from seeking treatment.
Some patients may also be reluctant to switch to private dentistry because they value the NHS and its principles of universal and equitable health care. They may feel that they have a right to receive dental care on the NHS and that they should not have to pay extra for it. They may also be concerned about the quality and safety of private dentistry, as well as the lack of accountability and transparency.
The future of dental health in Scotland
The dental health crisis in Scotland has raised serious questions about the future of dental care on the NHS and its impact on the oral health and well-being of the population. Dental health is an important aspect of overall health, as it affects not only the appearance and function of the teeth and mouth, but also the risk of infections, diseases, and chronic conditions. Poor dental health can also affect the mental and emotional health of individuals, as well as their social and economic opportunities.
The British Dental Association (BDA) has called for urgent action from the Scottish government to address the issues facing the dental sector and to ensure that NHS dentistry remains viable and accessible for all. The BDA has also urged the government to invest more in prevention and public health initiatives, such as fluoridation, oral health education, and screening programs, to reduce the need for costly and invasive dental treatments.
The Scottish government has said that it is committed to improving the oral health of the nation and to supporting the dental profession. It has also said that it is working on a new oral health plan that will set out the vision and strategy for the future of dental care in Scotland. The plan is expected to be published later this year.