Update on dental services

The Covid shutdown of dental services across our area aggravated existing problems around access to high street NHS dental care.
Dental services: an update from Caroline our Communities Programme Manager

That’s one of the findings of our latest report, Your care during Covid, published last month. And it’s been underlined by a spike in calls to our Information Service from people trying to find an NHS dentist and treatment.

A shortage of NHS dentists or dental nurses in the region and significant problems with recruitment were highlighted nearly two years ago in our Finding an NHS Dentist report.

And the Covid-19 pandemic has piled on more problems for local people needing dental services.

Dental surgeries were closed in the first lockdown but were able to reopen in June if they were Covid-safe. However, restrictions about social distancing, infection control, Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and hygiene mean they can see only about a third of their usual daily appointments.

In line with national guidance, priority is going to people needing emergency and urgent treatment. 

But people's experiences do reveal a very mixed picture across our area.

We are also aware that the special care dentist service - for people with learning or physical disabilities or dental anxiety - had a four-figure backlog after the first lockdown. Lack of dentistry for children is also an emerging problem.

What we're doing

Our Healthwatch is sharing people’s concerns and frustrations about access and care with NHS England and NHS Improvement which commissions dental services in our area.

We are in weekly contact with them and we are hopeful that a new approach can be found but this will not happen in the short-term.

What NHS England and NHS Improvement told us

Patient safety is paramount, so social distancing and infection control procedures mean that those in most urgent need are considered first.

Routine dental services are being restored and these are based on clinical need. This takes into account urgency of need, if there are unmet needs of vulnerable groups and the capacity a surgery has to take on work.

In Cambridgeshire and Peterborough there are now 56 NHS dental surgeries providing face to face services, and ten offering advice, analgesics and antibiotics (3As). This is alongside the eight Urgent Dental Care centres and three Oral Surgery Urgent Dental Care centres put in place as a response to the initial Covid restrictions.

  • All practices have been advised that they are to treat both regular and new attendees requiring urgent dental care and at least one urgent appointment, per dentist, per day should be made available to support referrals from the 111 service. 
  • Dental practices have been asked to hold one urgent care slot, per dentist, per day for any patient who presents with urgent needs (not just for usual patients to that practice).  This is above and beyond their normal appointment slots.

Our advice

  • If you have pain, swelling or bleeding, call NHS 111 or use the online service to go through a triage. They will refer you into an NHS dentist if necessary.
  • To find a dentist taking on NHS patients, you need to go through the list of dentists on the NHS website one by one. Please note that not all dentists keep their information up to date.
  • Dentists should not give you an NHS check-up then ask for you to pay privately for treatment which is available on the NHS.  

Tell us about your experiences

NHS and social care staff are doing everything they can to keep us well during these challenging times, but there might be things that can be improved.

Your feedback can help services spot issues that are affecting care for you and your loved ones.

Share your views