On 18 June 2020 the acting Chief Dental Officer wrote to all NI General Dental Practices setting out a timetable for the re-establishment of General Dental Services.
The plan for the restoration of primary care dentistry specified that practices were able to provide non-urgent treatments not involving Aerosol Generated Procedures (AGPs) from 29 June onwards and AGPs from 20 July onwards.
However, some practices that were able to demonstrate compliance with the stringent standards already in place within Urgent Dental Care Centres (UDCC) were able to provide all dental services including AGPs from 1 July 2020 onwards.
In July and August 2020, on average, approximately 16,000 patients per week received face-to-face care in general dental practices. This represents a 600% increase on the activity levels observed in the April to June period.
However, prior to Covid-19, approximately 80,000 patients would have received dental care each week in dental practices.
There are a large number of patients with significant oral health problems for which it could be many months before there is sufficient GDS capacity to allow their needs to be met. Furthermore, this number continues to grow with some patients in this group having experienced dental problems for five months.
On 31 July 2020, Health Minister Robin Swann approved further funding of £3.8 million for the GDS budget to help practitioners purchase level II PPE.
By the end of August, surveys showed that almost 90% of general dental practitioners had acquired level II PPE. As the amount of level II PPE increased in practices during August, the number of AGPs undertaken in primary care also increased.
In response to this drop in demand, the number of days per week on which UDCCs are operational was reduced for September and October.
Fewer UDCC operational days frees up Trust surgery space, facilitating the rebuilding of the Community Dental Service (CDS) in particular.
The public should continue to contact their local dentist if they are in pain. The implementation of significant cleaning and disinfection protocols will affect waiting times and access to dentist surgeries.
It may also be necessary in the future to tighten restrictions if that is deemed to be in the best interests of the population.