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DUP MLA and Health Committee Vice-Chair Pam Cameron has warned of an inevitable oral health crisis in Northern Ireland if Covid-19 pressures facing local dental practices are not urgently addressed.

Commenting, Mrs Cameron said:

‘‘There is mounting evidence that dental services across Northern Ireland are at breaking point.

As a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, operating costs have soared due to extra spending on PPE and other safety mitigations. These are costs that are ultimately passed on to patients, many of whom have already waited many months for routine care.

There is also the concern that surgeries are often sitting empty because regulations on ‘fallow periods’ require dentists to wait an hour between treatments when an aerosol-generating procedure, for example with a drill, has been used. The science underlying this is lightweight at best and isn’t endorsed in many other countries. This has led to drastically reduced volume of patients and inevitable challenges to practices balancing their books.

The Department of Health must get to grips with this situation before it escalates into practice closures and the loss of vital local services. Its poor handling of emergency financial support provided to dentists and disjointed approach to supplying PPE has already had a negative effect. We cannot afford for this to happen again.

The stakes are incredibly high. The most recent NHS Children’s Dental Health Survey found that in Northern Ireland that 19 per cent of children aged 5 showed signs of severe or extensive tooth decay. Without sending a clear signal that dental services are valued, well-resourced and open for business it is inevitable that this crisis in oral health will not only continue but get deepen.

I urge the Minister to urgently redouble his efforts in this area - including through additional financial support and rethink of the Public Health England policy on fallow times - in order to provide a lifeline to the local surgeries and communities most affected.’’