POEPLE are reluctant to contact their dentists for an appointment because they feel that a check-up might not be seen as important enough.
That is the view of one MS who has called for an increase in capacity in dental services and to help boost the number of dentists working in Wales.
Dentistry services, like the health system, is facing pressure to offer it’s pre-pandemic services due to a large backlog and added infection controls.
In March 2020 NHS dentistry services have been scaled back to help protect the public and dental teams from the threat of coronavirus.
Many dental procedures, such as fillings or scaling, use high-speed drills and other tools which are “aerosol generating” – which create spray which could risk spreading the virus.
Although routine services are now being offered by NHS dentists, the backlog caused by the pandemic has caused long delays for many patients who want a check-up.
Across Wales there has been a 50 per cent reduction in the number of people who have been able to access NHS dentistry.
Speaking in the Senedd on Wednesday Altaf Hussain MS said that people have become reluctant to “contact their dentists for an appointment” in case they are not seen as important enough.
He said: “It is a worrying fact that many dental practices have struggled to return to normal as we emerge from the pandemic.
“Many people cannot access an adequate out-of-hours service for emergency advice and appointments.
“A check-up is, however, vital to the patient: problems can be identified earlier and a dentist is qualified to advise on the wider questions of oral health.
“Can the Minister outline what discussions she has had with the British Dental Association about the capacity of our dental services, and what plans does she have to ensure we have the right number of dentists working in Wales?”
Health Minister Eluned Morgan said that a new chief dental officer has been appointed in Wales in a bid to help alleviate the pressures facing the service.
Monthly meetings are now taking place to help get some “real pace” in the system.
Ms Morgan said: “One of the things that I’m doing at the moment is I’m going through the details of the integrated medium term plans for each of the health boards and I’m making sure that every one of them has a proposal and a plan that are adequate to address the issues in relation to dentistry.
“We did have a period of time where there wasn’t a chief dental official in Wales in post, and so I’m really delighted now to see that we have appointed somebody and that that focus, I hope, will be brought to bear on the system.
“We are still in a situation, of course, where aerosol-generating equipment could cause infection and so we do have to understand that there are still restrictions in relation to dentistry that may not be quite the same as in other NHS facilities.”
Sioned Williams MS said a report carried out by Swansea bay community health council’s found that “70 per cent of people feel pressure to seek private dental care in order to get an appointment.”
Ms Williams added: “I welcome the government’s recently announced plan to improve dental care, but I’d like to know how the contract reform is going to adequately and urgently address all of the concerns reflected in the report, which are replicated all over Wales, and have been raised by many members in this chamber.
“Is there sufficient funding to increase NHS capacity to end this unjust postcode lottery, and ensure those who cannot afford to pay, or who cannot find an NHS dentist, receive the care they’re entitled to?”
The health minister said: “We have put in an additional recurrent pot of funding—£2 million.
“As you’ll be aware, what we can’t do is to conjure up new dentists overnight.
“And that’s why what we’re trying to do is to make sure that we train hygienists and therapists, and I can assure you that there are about 20,000 people who are being seen each in week in Wales.”