THE need for personal protective equipment (PPE) in dental practices to prevent the spread of infection during the Covid-19 crisis has been described as a “really big challenge”.

Dentistry in Bradford was discussed at a meeting of Bradford Council’s Health & Social Care Overview and Scrutiny Committee.

Emma Wilson, from NHS England, provided an update to the meeting as dental practices begin to re-open.

She said: “The need for PPE is still a really big challenge in dentistry and one of the big challenges is that for an aerosol-generating procedure, you need enhanced PPE and, as you would imagine, most dental procedures are aerosol generating including teeth cleaning etc.

"So the need for that enhanced PPE does limit how many appointments and the range of services a dental practice can open.

"To support this, we have kept the Urgent Care Dental Network in place, so the seven centres are still operating and will continue to do so until we have got sufficient practices in the local area that are offering face-to-face care so patients have to travel minimally.

“Even though we are clearly seeing a relaxing of the lockdown measures, we don’t want patients travelling more than they have to.”

Councillor Vanda Greenwood (Lab, Windhill & Wrose) raised the issue of patients undergoing private dental treatment being charged extra because of the PPE which has to be used - which she described as “pretty immoral”.

Ms Wilson said there has been some confusion over it, as a lot of dentists have two contracts and treat both private and NHS patients.

“Our expectation isn’t that our NHS dentists would charge,” she said.

The British Dental Association (BDA) has also said a surcharge should only apply to private dentists. It has estimated - due to shortages and the need for kit never previously required - the cost of PPE alone, ignoring other treatment costs, for treating a single patient has increased by up to 6,000 per cent.

BDA Chair Mick Armstrong said: “The amount a private dentist charges a patient will always vary from practice to practice and will of course depend on the treatment provided. For NHS treatment, patient charges are fixed across England. The costs of providing dental treatment have risen astronomically, as practices adopt additional safety measures, including full PPE and allowing long gaps between patients for many procedures.

“This has increased costs and private dentists have little choice other than to pass on some costs to patients. Facing fewer patients and higher costs many practices now fear for their futures. A service millions of patients depends on needs this government to throw it a lifeline.”

My Dentist, which runs a number of dental surgeries in Bradford, told the Telegraph & Argus said its supplement for advanced PPE would only be charged to patients starting new courses of private dental treatment and not to those receiving NHS treatment.

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “The government has put unprecedented funding in place to provide support to all businesses, including dentists and while routine services begin to gradually restart, the safety of patients and those working in dental practices will be our top priority.

"We are working around the clock to make sure frontline healthcare staff have the PPE they need and have made supplies available to the dental sector via wholesalers.”