Trips to the dentist will look very different when practices begin to reopen from June 8 in England.
From temperature screening to cleansing mouthwashes, patients will notice significant differences to their usual dentist experience since the outbreak of Covid-19, all specifically made to minimise the risk of spreading the virus.
Virtual consultations will continue even when practices reopen and only those who do need treatment will then be invited into a practice.
Patients will be asked to attend alone – except for young children and people who need a carer with them, the Liverpool Echo reports.
People will also need to call the practice upon arrival and either wait in their car or stand outside, practicing the social distancing recommendations, until they are called inside, in order to avoid the waiting rooms.
Temperatures will be checked for both staff and patients, in one of the changes being brought in.
Local dental practices were told to suspend routine services on March 25 in a bid to curb the spread of the deadly coronavirus while the country went into lockdown.
But now, dental practices will be among the most sterile environments in the country when they reopen in line with the latest government guidelines from Monday, June 8.
Dentists hope the measures will help reduce the concern of almost a third of Brits who expressed a reluctance to return to their dentist post-lockdown, according to research from leading dental group, Portman Dental Care.
Catherine Tannahill, director of clinical dentistry at Portman Dental Care, which has more than 130 practices across the UK, said: “As practitioners we want to reassure patients that a trip to the dentist in the new normal will mean they will be visiting one of the safest environments in the UK.
“While our research shows some people are nervous to return, it’s vital as a profession that we reopen and provide treatments once again to those in need, to help curb any potential dental health crisis in the future, such as a spike in oral cancer, one of the UK’s biggest causes of cancer related deaths.
“The patient journey from the 8th June will be different, to ensure everyone’s safety, but the care and professionalism from our dental practitioners will continue to be exemplary.”
In an effort to combat nervousness about dental practices reopening, the new way of operating has been outlined by dentists.
Virtual or remote consultations will continue even when practices reopen to aid convenience and reduce the need for contact in a surgery, with those who do need treatment then invited into a practice.
Catherine Tannahill said: “All patients in need of treatment will be called and briefed on the new procedures in place and details of their appointment before visiting the practice.
“They may also be asked to complete and return a new medical history form digitally ahead of their appointment.
“It is also crucial that people come to the practice alone where possible, with the exception of young children and those with carers, and that they bring as minimal personal belongings with them as possible.
“The practice doors will only be open to those with an appointment at the corresponding time, in order to stop people gathering in the waiting rooms.
“Therefore, patients will need to call the practice upon their arrival and either wait in their car or stand outside, practicing the social distancing recommendations, until a member of the team calls them to tell them to enter the practice.”
Before a patient enters the practice, their temperature will be screened which will be a daily procedure for dental staff and employees, too.
This is to check whether they have a fever, and anyone with a temperature below 37.5 degrees will then be invited in. For safety, those with a temperature above this will be asked to rearrange their appointment.
Catherine Tannahill said: “Once inside, receptionists will be sat behind plastic screens and the patient will be asked to sanitise their hands and put on a facemask.
“As dentists we obviously can’t carry out social distancing when performing routine check-ups and treatments, so the teams will be in full Personal Protective Equipment.”
After the appointment, patients will need to replace their face mask and wash their hands.
The treatment room and other key surfaces will then be fully cleaned and disinfected.
This means that there will be longer time periods between patients so practices will have to see a reduced number of patients each day.
Before, a private dentist may have seen up to 21 patients per day, but post-lockdown this may reduce to as little as eight.
Catherine Tannahill added: “Dentists are likely to begin working longer hours to accommodate the backlog of patients, but there will be a priority for appointments in the first instance, with those who are vulnerable, those in need of urgent dental care or those in need of continued routine dental treatment getting first priority.”
According to the research from Portman Dental Care, only 28% of people say they will feel comfortable enough to return to their dentist right away post-lockdown, with a third stating they will wait a couple of months or so and one in ten even claiming they will wait a year or more.
Patients in London, which accounts for 44%, and those aged 18-34, which accounts for 51%, are the most hesitant to return, while those in the East Midlands and Scotland are most likely to wait more than a year to return.
Catherine said: “We understand that people might be nervous about returning to their dentists, as similarly to the hairdressers, social distancing simply isn’t possible between clinician and patient, but it is concerning to see through our research that so many people are hesitant to return and some may even wait months before visiting.
“As with many other services, we are no longer in a place of business as usual, and so dentists have been working tirelessly behind the scenes over the past few months to restructure the way in which we carry out check-ups and treatments in order to help keep people safe and ensure the patient experience is as seamless as possible.”