|Practicing good dental health is important to maintain healthy teeth, mouths, and gums. / Photo by bbernard via Shutterstock|
Practicing good dental health is important to maintain healthy teeth, mouths, and gums. It also impacts your appearance and quality of life. But what if an appointment scheduled with a dentist is impossible? In the UK, for instance, 12,000 dental clinics were closed due to the Covid-19 pandemic. This caused desperate patients to resort to DIY dentistry.
Billy Taylor, 33, is among these who turned to extreme measures because the dental clinics in his area were all closed due to the pandemic, reports national British daily The Telegraph. The aircraft fitter from UK-based tools and machinery provider Axminster said he had an infected tooth that caused him “excruciating” pain for weeks. The left side of his face was swelling and it grew bigger every half hour.
The alarming rise of DIY dentistry
He called the United Kingdom National Health Service (NHS) to book a slot at an emergency dental hub but he was told that he could not come unless the tooth infection was restricting his breathing. Left with no choice, Taylor took matters into his own hands. He drank whiskey, placed an ice pack on his swollen face, and waited until he could no longer feel his gums. Then, he asked his 11-year-old son Leo to assist him. Leo used Taylor’s work tools to tug on the infected tooth for about one hour and a half until it was removed.
Although he said there was some bruising on his cheek, the pain “instantly” subsided. Taylor is not the only one who has had to resort to DIY dentistry at home. The closure of most dental clinics in the country has thrown millions of British patients in a confusing state. Starting late March, almost all routine dental treatments in the country were canceled. The chief dental offices of the country advised that there’s a high risk of dental staff giving Covid-19 to patients and vice versa.
Viral load of Covid-19 in aerosol-generating machines used by dentists
UK policymakers were also particularly concerned about the use of aerosol-generating machines, such as ultrasonic scalers, believed to carry a high risk of transmission when used on a patient infected by a coronavirus. This is because the machines can spray the Covid-19 particles into the room and may linger for a few hours. Ultrasonic scalers are used by the dentist to remove calculus deposits on tooth surfaces visible in the mouth and below the gumline.
Seven weeks after the dental clinics’ shutdowns, there is still no sign from the NHS that the routine care will restart. Such a decision, though, became controversial in the country. British Society of Dental Hygiene and Therapy’s president Julie Deverick explained that the viral load of Covid-19 in dental aerosol machines is not as high as previously believed to be. She added that other countries in Europe even kept the majority of their dental clinics open during the pandemic. Germany, for instance, has been praised internationally for having a low coronavirus disease death rate.
Deverick, who is a dental hygienist by profession, heard some patients in the UK cannot get a dental filling so they were forced to get their tooth extracted to stop the pain. On the other hand, patients who prefer not to get a tooth extraction were prescribed “rounds of antibiotics.” She told the Telegraph that one patient even received three back-to-back prescriptions, which is not good. As much as possible, dentists have been trying to lessen the use of antibiotics.
As for the story of Taylor, Deverick said it must have felt “horrendous” to undergo such a process of removing one’s tooth.
|Patients with missing filling, minor infection, or bleeding gums are unlikely to receive an appointment. / Photo by bezikus via Shutterstock|
Triage of patients
Compared to Germany, patients in the UK have the priority of their treatments determined over the phone. Some were prescribed painkillers or antibiotics over email. Generally, the emergency hubs are carrying out only basic procedures, such as tooth extractions. Patients with missing filling, minor infection, or bleeding gums are unlikely to receive an appointment.
Some dentists have complained that the NHS acted too slow in getting the emergency hubs up and running. This is especially the case in England, where there was a backlog of cases. British Dental Association’s chair Mick Armstrong was instead blamed for “dragging of heels in government.” He admits there has been a delay in getting PPE to dentists too. The BDA chair said, “across England, dentists are still lacking kit and the result is patients in real pain are going untreated.”
Using chewing gums as fillings
Law firm Dental Law Partnership’s managing director Chris Dean, who has been a dentist for decades, says that the law firm now receives nearly 40 messages every day from worried patients. Some of these patients were reportedly using chewing gum just to fill the cavities after their tooth fillings come loose during the lockdown. There were also some using super glue to put back their veneers, which are thin coverings placed on the visible part of the tooth to look like natural teeth.
Some patients have been recommended to instead purchase over-the-counter dentistry kits, which includes a putty material so patients could fashion their fillings. Dean commented, though, that he could not even find a single home dentistry kit in the shops during the first few weeks of coronavirus lockdown. It is a good thing that these kits are now available in high-street pharmacies.
Dentistry personnel per 1,000 population
The United Nations Statistics Division shared that there were 51.22 dentistry personnel per 1,000 population in the United Kingdom in 2010 and it grew to 52.37 in 2011. In the year that followed, the number of dentists, dental technicians, dental assistants, and related occupation personnel stood at 51.78, growing to 52.10 in 2013. In 2014, it was at 52.83.
Meanwhile, Hermes London Dental Clinic published that there were approximately 35,000 dentists employed in the UK in 2018 and 22 million adult patients were seen by the NHS dentists. Such is equivalent to 50.4% of the adult population in the UK availing of dental services. In the same period, 7 million child patients were seen by NHS dentists or 58.6% of the child population.
The coronavirus lockdown opened the eyes of the public to the services that are available to them. On a positive note, it could also lead to some changes in the dental industry, such as the adaptation of video and phone consultations