Coronavirus could worsen dental access problems in Cornwall

Jason Smithson, on behalf of the British Association for Private Dentistry, is calling for dental practices to reopen in the face of coronavirus A dentist is calling for practices to reopen for emergency patients after describing the pandemic as a ‘disaster situation’.

Jason Smithson has said he sees a need for patients to be received by practices following a lack of urgent dental care centres.

These were urged to be set up across the UK after the NHS called an end to all routine, non-emergency dental care. 

Cornwall-based Mr Smithson – who has recently helped to set up the British Association of Private Dentistry – said access troubles are especially bad in his county.

Some patients are braving long journeys in order to seek emergency dental care at the single facility in Bodwin.

He said: ‘The access has definitely worsened since there is only the UDC hub open. And the possible bankruptcy of some practices may result in poorer access in the future.

‘I have received some notifications from dental centres in other parts of the UK asking for donations. They’re also not well equipped in terms of PPE.

The main problem seems to be the distance – it could be a two and a half hour drive one way for some families in Cornwall. Even the one UDC in Cornwall is one more than some counties.

‘I think we need to have clear direction from the government via the CDO on what we need to do to open up our own practices. We also need support from indemnity, the CQC, the GDC, so that everyone’s on the same page.’

Cornwall already suffered with access issues prior to the pandemic, largely down to the lack of NHS care available.


Mr Smithson points out that some of the patients suffering can not have their dental complications simply treated with over-the-counter medications.

He said: ‘I am talking about opening to help people who have swollen faces etc. For example, pulpitis is not currently classed as an emergency. We are being told to triage and provide antibiotics but if this is inflammatory and not infected, antibiotics are not going to work.

‘There’s a dentist I’m talking to in Cornwall who had 12 patients in pain two weeks ago. I can imagine they are still walking around in pain now.

‘I’m not going to be dramatic enough to say this is a warlike situation but it’s definitely a disaster situation. It’s inhumane to allow people to suffer. Some of these patients are, of course, key workers. You can’t work if you have a toothache – it can be very debilitating.’

He added that he sees reopening dental practices as a practical solution to avoid putting further pressure on a&e departments.

‘I appreciate it’s not ideal but the sensible solution is to allow dentists to open up practices to treat patients in pain. I personally cannot see why the risk I worse than allowing patients to go untreated to the point where they wind up in a&e,’ he said.

Enormous problems

Although Mr Smithson acknowledges that cosmetic dental complications are rightly not classed as emergencies, he voiced worries about the longer term impact.

He said: ‘At my practice, we do an enormous amount of implant work. If a screw came loose, it’s obviously not an emergency but it can later cause an enormous amount of problems at a high cost. And who will pick up this cost? Us? The patient? Can they complain to the GDC? It’s not been made clear to us.

‘The UDC in Bodmin will not have the equipment to deal with any problems arising as a result of implant work – they quite rightly don’t class this as an emergency but they wouldn’t be able to do it regardless.

‘We also have nurses with increased training in advanced infection control. This is not to disregard a standard dental nurse but those with increased training I see as better placed to carry out emergency procedures with the correct PPE.’

Follow on Instagram to keep up with all the latest dental news and trends.

Get the most out of your membership by subscribing to Dentistry CPD
  • Access 600+ hours of verified CPD courses
  • Includes all GDC recommended topics
  • Powerful CPD tracking tools included
Register for webinar
Add to calendar