Northern Ireland’s Dental Practice Committee chair has called on patients to be honest when booking appointments after some attended clinics while Covid positive.
Richard Graham says dentists are facing “tough” times as they navigate treatment in PPE and have seen a huge drop in appointments they can offer their patients.
He also warned of a ticking timebomb in relation to oral cancers as routine appointments have all but stopped.
The British Dental Association NI’s dental practice committee chair said: “Dentists are having to work with all the regulations that we have in place.
“If you need to go to the dental practice now, what you have to do is phone up and make an appointment.
“24 hours before the appointment they will phone up and ask you all the COVID questions – whether you have you been in contact with anybody, are you positive [or have] an unexplained cough – things like that.
“One worrying thing is we have found out that a number of patients have actually being lying in the answers and the practice has only found out later on that the patient is COVID positive and lied just so they could get their appointment.
“Please don’t do that.
“Luckily we have to wear level 2 PPE, but again, that level 2 PPE is physically and mentally exhausting for people to wear.”
“There is still a limit to the amount of activity you can do without putting your own health at risk,” he added.
“I retired from practice last February but I volunteered and came back to work in the emergency dental clinic and I found it the most physically demanding out of 40 years work – it was horrendous.
“You lost so much liquid after a day’s work that your muscles were cramping and you had headaches.
“I had to do that for a short period, I have no idea how my colleagues have been doing that for nearly a year.“
Mr Graham said it’s “difficult” for dentists as they are “being asked to do stuff, we have never been asked to do before”.
He added: “We’ve been asked not just to cover our own registered patients but unregistered patients as well because all of the out of hours clinics had to shut down.
“There’s one member on one of my committees who has been working seven days a week since this started, with two days off when he got somebody else to cover his on call. Apart from that he’s been on call the whole way through this – that’s nearly a year with two days off.
“I don’t think people realise we are having to do all that.
“Most people are being brilliant about it, they realise it’s a pandemic and things are difficult.”
He is also concerned oral cancers may be going undiagnosed.
“We are all really worried,“ he said.
“One of the things we do as dentists is screening for oral cancers, so every patient who comes in for an examination part of that examination is a screening round the mouth for oral cancer.
“As far as I am aware there has been a massive drop in the number of referrals to secondary care.
“Those cancers must still be there but they are not being picked up so I would advise anybody who has an unexplained swelling, if they have an ulcer that hasn’t healed up after two weeks – if they have unexplained pain or a sensation like tingling, they urgently need to be seen by a dentist.“
What to do if you need a dentist appointment:
- Call your dentist first. If you are aren’t registered with a dentist, phone a local dentist practice for advice. Information is available here – Search for Dentist – You may have to try a number of practices before you find one that will see unregistered patients.
- The dentist or staff in the dental practice will ask you some questions over the phone to assess your condition. Some of these questions may include if you have a temperature or a cough or a loss or change of smell or taste.
- If appropriate, you may receive a call back from a dentist, be given relevant advice, issued with a prescription or asked to come into the practice.
- If you have tested positive for Coronavirus (COVID-19) or have symptoms such as a high temperature and a new continuous cough, or a loss or change of smell or taste and you need dental treatment, please let your dentist know.
Patients must be referred by their dentist. If you have an urgent or emergency dental problem:
- Call your dentist first.
- Your dentist or staff in the dental practice will ask you some questions over the phone to assess your condition. Some of these questions may include if you have a temperature, a cough, or a loss or change of your smell or taste.
- If appropriate, you may receive a call back from a dentist, be given relevant advice, issued with a prescription or asked to come into the practice or be referred to an Urgent Dental Care Centre if clinically appropriate.
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