MORE dentists in Scotland are refusing to treat NHS patients than in England, dental leaders say, leaving many struggling to access even basic check-ups.

An investigation by the Herald found there is wide variation across Scotland and some confusion over what treatments dentists can or are willing to provide if patients are not private due to the impact of coronavirus.

Currently only emergency ‘aerosol generating procedures (AGPs) can be provided on the NHS, which for example involve the use of a drill, but there does not seem to be consensus on what treatments are permitted.

More procedures are available privately because dentists are not governed by the same sanctions and dentists’ leaders say they are able to recoup the costs of enhanced PPE and other safeguards.

Professor Phil Taylor, Dean-Elect of the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh (RCSEd)’s Faculty of Dental Surgery said NHS practices will not be able to return to offering a full range of services until larger supplies of enhanced PPE is provided and restrictions are lifted limiting the number of patients dentists can treat.

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The British Dental Association raised concerns last month that much of the enhanced PPE being provided by the Scottish Government was past its sell by date.

Prof Taylor said NHS dentists are also struggling with shortages of dental nurses, particularly in hospitals where patients tend to have co-morbidities, because many are too frightened of virus risks to return.

He also warned that the training of dental students could also be impacted because Scotland’s  dental training schools are not fully set up for Covid safety which he said could limit patient training opportunities.

NHS Lanarkshire said ‘comprehensive routine dental check-ups’ are currently not available unless patients are experiencing symptoms while both NHS Highland and NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde said registered patients can access check-ups.

One practice in the west end of Glasgow, which does a mixture of NHS an and private treatment, said it had a waiting list of 65 for NHS check-ups and is only providing examinations privately because the way they are performed generates aerosol.

READ MORE: Dentists raise concerns over PPE a decade out of date 

Prof Taylor said: “There seems to be a bigger problem in Scotland with dentists saying they are only treating patients if they are private.

“I’m not sure about it, to be honest, it may be a cost thing because it’s costing so much in PPE and that’s not being covered by the NHS fee. 

“They may be able to pass on the cost of the PPE or upgrades to the practice to the private patient.

“The cost of NHS dental treatment hasn’t changed very much since 1990.

“They (both Scottish and UK governments) have not been very helpful about getting patients back into the system and this is happening in Scotland and England.

“In the past a dentist might have seen 20 patients, they are now seeing between five and ten per day. It’s the patient’s right to be able to get one (a check-up).

“From a general practice point of view the big issue is that the majority of dentists are in premises that are owned by the dentists themselves.

“The problem with an area like that is the air circulation. In a practice, there has to be a lot more down time between patient. Some may not even have a window in their practice.”

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He said surgeries are also facing shortages of dental nurses and said the pandemic could impact on training because the  three main schools in Aberdeen, Glasgow and Dundee were designed ‘pre Covid’ which could limit opportunities to practice on patients.

He said: “We could be setting ourselves up for poorly trained dentists in the future.’

A Scottish Government spokesperson said:“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.

“Scotland’s Chief Dental Officer has been meeting the Deans of the Dental Schools in Scotland on a regular basis as they prepare the dental hospitals to provide safe working environments for students to return to clinical practice.”