Words & pics by Ed King
**IF YOU ARE SUFFERING FROM DENTAL PAIN AND CANNOT REACH YOUR REGULAR PRACTICE/SURGERY, PLEASE GO STRAIGHT TO THE CONTACT INFORMATION AT THE END OF THIS ARTICLE**
During the widespread lockdown of shops and services, to combat the spread of COVID-19, Erdington residents have been left without any clear route to emergency dental services.
But whilst emergency services remain open for a wide range of illness and accidents, with people even encouraged to keep in contact with their GP surgeries, dental practitioners have been given no clear guidance on how to support their patients – leaving local residents suffering from dental pain walking through a complex minefield of referrals to find treatment.
“When I rang my local GP surgery (Eaton Wood Medical Centre), they were absolutely no help whatsoever,” explains Karen Baker-Sullivan – an Erdington resident who was suffering with a severe tooth infection.
“I initially rang my dentist, and she told me to ring my local GP – tell them you’ve spoken to your dentist, who is not at her practice at the moment, and they will be able to refer you to some antibiotics. It was supposed to be that simple.
“The receptionist took all these details and told me the GP would ring me back… I eventually got a phone call back about four hours later and was asked to go through all my symptoms again. Which I did. At the end of it I was told I couldn’t have any antibiotics because they don’t deal with dental pain. I was just told to get back in touch with my dentist… who isn’t practicing at the moment.”
Government is yet to lay out a medical response plan for dental care during the coronavirus crisis, with sterility and the safeguarding of surgery staff as their public facing concerns – the only clear message coming from Whitehall about dentistry. But as PPE shortages continue to affect the widespread NHS and healthcare services, dentistry is continually overlooked – leaving many dental practices in the dark and their patients suffering in silence.
“It’s clear that some professions are more likely to be close to people for long periods and you may get some sort of aerosolisation of the sputum and so on,” says Sir Patrick Vallance – the Government’s Chief Scientific Adviser, “so there are risks in certain professions and dentistry is clearly one of those where that might be the case.
“This is being looked at, I know, by the Chief Medical Officer (Professor Chris Whitty) in terms of what could be done to reduce that – and, of course, dentists are healthcare professionals who are used to working in environments where there are infections risks.”
The advice given by the British Dental Association (BDA) is that ‘assuming you have not got COVID-19 related symptoms, you should call your (dental) practice.’ But with many surgeries closed, or oversubscribed with emergency enquiries, many people are finding it difficult to contact their regular dentist.
Further advice from the BDA refers patients in pain to the national NHS 111 hotline, which Erdington Local called seeking advice for a ‘constant and throbbing pain in one of my bottom left molars.’ After a significantly protracted question and answer session, using a generic address on Erdington High Street, we were referred to either the 6 Ways Dental Practice on Gravelly Hill North or Bupa (Oasis) Dental Care on Summer Rd.
There was no answer at 6 Ways Dental Practice, only a pre-recorded answering machine message stating ‘due to the coronavirus pandemic and Government recommendations 6 Ways Dental Practice will remain closed until further notice…’ – with a mobile number for patients needing ‘an emergency telephone consultation.’
Bupa (Oasis) Dental Care did pick up the phone but were unable to “see any face to face appointments.” Although, as with 6 Ways Dental Practice, the surgery could “get the dentist to give you a call back if it’s an emergency.”
Both 6 Ways Dental Practice and Bupa (Oasis) Dental Care referred us back to the NHS 111 hotline.
After phoning several more dentists across Erdington, with most surgeries relying on a pre-recorded message akin to the one from 6 Ways Dental Practice, Erdington Local was finally directed to the Scott Arms Dental Practice on the Walsall Rd in Great Barr – an off the record referral from a helpful member of staff at another dental practice.
Seemingly the only surgery taking face to face appointments, Erdington Local went through a robust over-the-phone examination to ascertain the severity of our complaint and to recommend treatment. There was also a helpful PDF document on the surgery’s website, titled ‘Managing Toothache at Home – Tips to help manage dental problems until you can see a dentist.’
On visiting the Scott Arms Dental Practice there was a constant stream of patients coming in and out of the surgery – being managed by staff, in accordance with the physical distancing guidelines issued by Government. And although many people were being asked to wait patiently in the car park, the sense of relief was palpable.
As one couple explained whilst waiting on the front steps, with the woman clutching a handkerchief to her jaw and clearly in considerable pain, “it wasn’t easy finding anywhere in Birmingham that would see us… but at least this place is open.”
For more from the Scott Arms Dental Practice, visit www.scottarmsdentalpractice.com
To visit the NHS 111 online support service, for all health concerns, visit www.111.nhs.uk