Thousands missing dental care

"Substanial" dental work deferred in the region will result in an increased demand when restrictions are lifted, the head of Dunedin’s dental school says.

"Like most of New Zealand, we have some guidance but are not yet certain when alert levels will change to allow a return to this routine work," University of Otago Faculty of Dentistry dean Mike Morgan said.

The New Zealand Dental Association called for appropriate PPE gear to be provided, as well as support in other areas.

It issued a "dire warning" this week to the Epidemic Response Committee, which said about 20,000 people were missing out on dental care each day.

Association president Katie Ayers said dentistry faced a lack of Government planning, support and virtually no available PPE.

"The dental profession has been telling Government and the public for weeks about continued access issues around the mandatory requirements and quantities of PPE."

But Dr Ayers said there had been "extreme" uncertainty due to a lack of guidelines surrounding what dental treatment should look like at each alert level.

"This means that planning is unable to begin [and] a workforce of over 10,000 is essentially sitting without work."

"One out of eight practices already having laid off staff and up to 45% currently being forced to consider doing the same."

Prof Morgan said the university supported the association in that appropriate PPE would be necessary for safe dental care to be provided during a time of heightened risk.

Normal dentistry practice involved procedures using high-speed drills and air-water syringes, which could generate aerosols.

And the heighted level of caution surrounding Covid-19 transmission through aerosols meant emergency care had been restricted to non-aerosol generating procedures and augmented PPE equipment.

He said a group of "dedicated" staff had been working in the new Clinical Services Building to provide emergency dental care.

The Dental Faculty had also prepared to treat patients infected or suspected of being infected with Covid-19, who needed urgent dental treatment.

It had "kitted out" a mobile dental unit for that purpose but it had fortunately not been used.

Prof Morgan said the university had strong links with association, the Southland District Health Board and Government, and would continue to take advice from the New Zealand Dental Council.

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