DENTISTS’ leaders have warned that Scotland could end up with a private only system of care with poorer patients resigned to ‘missing teeth and dentures’ if current Covid restrictions are not lifted and practices do not receive additional support.

Professor Phil Taylor, Dean-Elect of the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh (RCSEd)’s Faculty of Dental Surgery, said the profession had been ‘uniquely disadvantaged’ compared with other primary care services with a lack of 'meaningful support' from the Scottish Government.

He criticised an apparent lack of financial support from the government saying: ‘It beggars belief that pubs are offered a lifeline but key healthcare providers are not.’

He said continuing restrictions over  treatments and additional costs for PPE and other practice safeguards had left dentists with ‘no option’ but to offer private treatments to stay afloat.

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The use of aerosol generating procedures (AGPs) is still restricted which means that non-urgent treatments involving high speed dental drills used to prepare teeth for most permanent fillings and crowns are still not possible.

Iain Gray, Labour MSP for East Lothian said ‘an impasse’ on PPE had led to a situation where patients are being told they can be treated privately but not on the NHS.

The Scottish Government said it had worked with procurement teams to ensure a 'robust' supply of PPE is available to NHS dentists 'free of charge.'

The Royal College leader warned that if restrictions on AGPs are not lifted, NHS contracts could fail, resulting in Scotland’s dental health regressing and leaving ‘those who cannot afford treatment resigned to missing teeth and dentures.’

He said: “It seems that dentistry has been uniquely disadvantaged through the pandemic versus other primary care services due to the lack of meaningful support for the sector.

“It is hugely discouraging for dentists to be expected to abide by the same rules and regulations set out for NHS dentistry in their private practice.

“Those rules and the consequent increase in practice overheads for PPE and practice alterations for additional patient safety have served to restrict the vast majority of NHS treatment, meaning dentists have no option but to offer private treatment to stay in business.

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“Far from being ‘greedy’, this is the only way they can offer the necessary treatment to patients based on current rules, and the only way they can survive financially.

“If the Scottish Government does not ease restrictions on the use of aerosol generating procedures (AGPs) in NHS treatment, they are essentially allowing NHS dentistry contracts to fail, and are supporting the collapse of NHS dentistry in Scotland.

“We could come out of this pandemic with a private-only system as it is just not sustainable for the NHS model to continue.

“We will then be faced with a situation where the nation’s oral health goes back in time, with those who cannot afford treatment resigned to missing teeth and dentures.

“While it’s absolutely right that major industries like this are given assistance, it beggars belief that pubs should be offered a lifeline but key healthcare providers are not.”

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A Scottish Government spokesperson said:“We understand these are uncertain times for dentistry and have put in place a range of financial support measures intended to ensure that dental contractors are well placed to emerge from the current restrictions.

“Prior to the COVID-19 emergency, dental practices were required to purchase their PPE from commercial suppliers. 

"We’ve worked with NHS Scotland procurement teams to ensure a robust and sustainable supply of PPE is available to NHS dental practices free of charge throughout the NHS Remobilisation Plan, including enhanced PPE to dental practices for Aerosol Generating Procedures (AGPs).

“As well as deploying the Scottish Government budget for NHS dental services, we are investing an additional £2.75 million per month. This means we are making exceptional payments to the value of £12 million per month to support NHS dental incomes.