One year on: the changing landscape of dentistry
Zoe Close talks to Eddie Crouch about how COVID-19 has changed the profession, what the short- and long-term impacts will be and how practices can prepare for an uncertain future.
A year ago, the world as we knew it changed. Countries went into lockdown and all businesses – including dentistry – were impacted.
Practices were allowed to reopen their doors back in June 2020. However, the road back to normality, whenever that comes around, will continue to be a bumpy one.
I spoke to Eddie Crouch about the challenges practices and dentists continue to face. Also, whether they can start planning for the future.
Zoe Close (ZC): How do you look back on 2020, and are there things that have changed in dentistry for better or for worse?
Eddie Crouch (EC): I do not think anything has changed for the better; what has changed has really been the pace of the last 12 months.
Life has been completely different not only for myself and the BDA, but for colleagues up and down the country and in all parts of dentistry.
No one foresaw this and never imagined working in this way. The fantastic thing has been the professionalism of teams.
The workforces have been incredibly adaptable despite every single challenge that has been thrown at them at points during the pandemic, in an environment that is so high risk.
ZC: What are your main concerns from a patient point of view?
EC: BDA figures show that tens of millions of routine appointments have been lost since practices were asked to close in March.
Many colleagues are still struggling to get back to providing routine care for patients.
We managed to get urgent dental care centres off the ground for the worst emergencies. Although, there are numbers of patients with real dental problems.
Waiting lists have doubled and even trebled in many cases, and there is a real concern about screening for oral cancer.
This is a cancer on the increase and with younger patients being diagnosed, so it does worry me that cases will not be picked up until late, with poorer prognosis and more aggressive treatment.
ZC: Moving forward, what is going to be the biggest impact from the pandemic?
EC: Sustainability is the real worry of mine. Many practices on the high street have worked on an NHS and private model. NHS funds have been secured to all intents and purposes. However, there has been very little support for the private sector.
We are walking into a dental crisis without targeted help.
I think the problem pre-pandemic is that we have seen a significant reduction in the profitability of NHS dentistry.
Many practices are relying on subsidies from their private income to stay afloat, and without help for the private sector many will struggle.
ZC: What other help do you think dentists and practices need currently?
EC: Additional investment for some practices is very difficult because the profit margins are so low.
Even with things like investing in ventilation to allow more patients to be seen. Costs are big for an individual practice when they are already in a vulnerable position.
There needs to be government capital funding to allow practices to survive.
ZC: When do you think we may see the industry returning to some sort of normality?
EC: There is uncertainty, and we will have to wait and see how effective the vaccination programme is going to be before we can return to pre-pandemic levels of care.
Since practices reopened, we have seen how hard it is to operate with masks and PPE, and how much of a challenge it is.
I cannot foresee in the short term that it will go back to normality.
Understanding the effectiveness of the vaccine is critical before we can predict anything. So, the longer this goes on, the more the sustainability of practices becomes a worry.
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