Dentists are concerned they will face a “tsunami” of untreated tooth decay as people have been kept away from dental surgeries during lockdown.
According to an Opinium survey for the Association of Dental Groups (ADG), which represents practices across the country, half of UK parents said their children had missed a check-up since March, while nearly half of all adults have missed appointments.
31 per cent said their family had decided not to go for a check-up or make an appointment, while 13 per cent claimed they had not been able to get one, due to increasing delays caused by the pandemic.
Dental practices closed to all non-emergency patients during the early stages of the pandemic, but re-opened from 8 June with strictly limited capacity.
While most dental practices are now open for face-to-face care, Covid-19 restrictions mean dentists in England must allow a “fallow period” of 60 minutes following procedures that might generate aerosol particles, such as using a drill.
This means dentists are heavily restricted in the number of patients they can see. As they deal with capacity issues, few dentists are accepting new patients, leaving tens of thousands of people waiting to be accepted by an NHS practice.
Missed appointments and increased sugar consumption will have a huge impact on dental health, the ADG warns.
ADG chair Neil Carmichael told The Observer: “Before lockdown, there were already serious backlogs of people needing dental appointments, and the ongoing restrictions on dentistry since lockdown are only making that worse.
“Our big worry is children, whose tooth enamel is softer and thinner, and more vulnerable to sugary ‘lockdown diets’.
“When routine appointments restart, dentists could face a tsunami of tooth decay to tackle.”
A report from the ADG set to be published next month is expected to warn that hospital operations will be needed to remove unsaveable teeth.
In addition to check-ups, oral health programmes for some of the country’s most vulnerable children have struggled during the pandemic.
Sue Jordan, a director at Community Dental Services, which delivers oral health services in southern England and the Midlands, said: “Over lockdown 90 per cent of our outreach to the most vulnerable communities in our regions has been shut down.
“In normal times we support more than 2,000 young children to do supervised teeth cleaning.”