Patients needing dental care in England are being left in agony because they are unable to get emergency care amid the coronavirus pandemic. 

Dental practices have been closed to patients since March 20 in order to limit the spread of the life-threatening disease.

And since then, potentially thousands of patients needing treatment have been left in limbo, according to the British Dental Association (BDA). 

The body, which represents dentists, said practices have been inundated with daily calls from distressed patients. 

NHS England said it is providing pop-up centres to treat patients who need urgent medical help for problems such as abscesses.

But the BDA said the vast majority aren’t operating yet, and warned that a lack of personal protective equipment (PPE) for staff may be to blame. 

The NHS disputes the BDA’s claims and says that 50 of the urgent care centres are already open, with a further seven expected this week.

People in England are suffering agonising tooth pain because they are unable to get emergency dental care amid the coronavirus pandemic (stock)

People in England are suffering agonising tooth pain because they are unable to get emergency dental care amid the coronavirus pandemic (stock)

People in England are suffering agonising tooth pain because they are unable to get emergency dental care amid the coronavirus pandemic (stock)

Since the deadly coronavirus outbreak reached British soil, the BDA has expressed its growing concern for dentistry.

After fears dentists were at risk of catching the virus from patients, NHS England ordered all routine care to stop for the foreseeable future. 

This includes routine exams and any aerosol producing procedures, such as routine fillings. 

Urgent care was not supposed to be affected to ensure patients didn’t end up at hospital with pain, adding more burden to the overstretched NHS.

NHS England set out plans to create a dedicated Urgent Dental Care System, with 160 centres across the nation. Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are separately organising their own UDCs.

It will make sure patients – whether they are healthy or have coronavirus – can get urgent dental work they need. 

Based on NHS dental statistics, over 3.5million urgent care courses of treatment were provided last year. 

Just over a third of the centres have been set up so far, according to NHS England.

But the BDA argues the majority have not been put into motion yet, and claim its because the NHS simply doesn’t have enough PPE to provide dentists with.

In theory, dentists who will continue working at such close proximity to patients should have access to relevant PPE.

However, even hospital staff and GPs treating confirmed coronavirus patients are not receiving adequate PPE, as the government grapples with sourcing enough. 

BDA chair Mick Armstrong said: ‘The overwhelming majority of urgent care centres planned for England have yet to even get off the ground.

‘Dentists are being bombarded by calls from patients in real pain, but still have nowhere to send them.

‘We desperately need to see a safe, properly-equipped service up and running.’ 

The stalling is leaving many people in England struggling to be seen by a dentist, the BBC reports.

The BDA said almost every practice is getting at least one call a day asking for help. With nowhere to refer patients, many will go untreated or be seen with a delay.

Mr Armstrong said: ‘Real energy must now be devoted to developing emergency services. Precious time has already been lost for planning, and colleagues will require the resources to provide it safely.

‘The thousands who experience a dental emergency each day must not end up with another postcode lottery of provision.

‘This profession stands ready and willing to support the national effort and any workable emergency plan.’ 

An NHS spokesperson said: ‘As an essential part of the coronavirus response, all dental practices were asked to suspend routine and non-urgent dental appointments, and to work with regional teams to set up 160 Urgent Dental Care hubs to provide care for those who need it.

‘Fifty of these are already open, with a further seven expected this week, and the remaining 103 will be able to treat patients from next week, on top of the existing emergency and out of hours services that are already available.’ 


London dentist, Dr Richard Marques said issues such as a lost filling, dull toothache, mild sensitivity or a small chip in tooth can all be treated at a later date.  

Examples of more serious issues which would constitute an emergency include: 

  • Gums that will not stop bleeding
  • Extreme tooth sensitivity or toothache causing constant pain
  • A tooth that has been knocked out/is jagged 
  • Swollen cheeks/gums and general extreme pain from swelling or possible infection
  • Swollen cheeks/gums and general extreme pain from swelling or possible infection

Should you experience any of the above, try calling your dentist in the first instance as they may have setup a helpline to offer advice.

If symptoms continue, call the NHS helps service on 111.

If the situation is serious, you may need to go to A&E – however, especially at this time you should only do so if 100 per cent necessary and advised by a medical professional.  

The following are some things you can try at home: 

  • If your tooth is knocked out, place it in a glass of milk until it can be treated (the milk helps keep an acid-alkali ratio meaning the tooth won’t swell) 
  • Take paracetamol (or if safe to do so, ibuprofen) to help reduce the immediate pain  
  • Hold an ice pack (or a pack of frozen veg) on areas of swelling
  • Dissolve salt in warm water and swish around the mouth for 60 seconds to help remove bacteria and clear infection
  • Rinsing for 30 seconds with a hydrogen peroxide solution will also act as an antibacterial mouthwash for pain and inflammation 
  • Dab a small amount of clove oil on the affected area to help reduce pain 

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