Dentists adhering to new guidance can open next week

Guidance on infection control was published on Friday by State’s Health Protection Surveillance Centre

Dentists are finding it increasingly difficult to cope during the Covid-19 pandemic, lacking the State funding available to other medical professionals. Dental practices must also source and pay for their own PPE. Video: John Cassidy

 

Dentists will be able to reopen for routine services if they can adhere to newly published infection control guidance, the Department of Health has confirmed.

The department said dental practices would be able to provide regular treatments again next week after being closed – except for emergency treatments during the lockdown – if they can follow the guidance published on Friday by the State’s Health Protection Surveillance Centre.

The exact timing of the opening of dental practices for routine dentistry had not been clear with the Irish Dental Council previously saying practices would be able to reopen on Monday with the first wave of restriction relaxations or shortly afterwards.

Dentists had been awaiting further advice from the council, the regulator of the profession, or the Department of Health’s National Public Health Emergency Team.

The Irish Dental Council said it would consider the revised guidance when it meets shortly. It was unable to say when this meeting would take place.

The State’s Health Protection Surveillance Centre (HPSC) published a 14-page revised guidance document for dentists on Friday afternoon on how to manage dental practices to prevent the spread of Covid-19.

Speaking at a Government press conference approving the first wave of lockdown relaxations from Monday, Mr Harris said the expert guidance on reopening to routine services would “enable dentistry to recommence in a safe manner”.

The new guidance for dentists includes a recommendation on the use of a Perspex screen at dental surgery receptions.

Health officials have also removed a previous recommendation not to use aerosol-generating procedures and advice to wear a mask and eye protection when using them.

Guidance

The Irish Dental Association said the guidance would help dentists reopen and “allows the possibility of more treatments being provided subject to the dentists following this guidance”.

Fintan Hourihan, chief executive of the association, said there may be some dentists who “would not be as ready as they like to reopen from Monday because they are only just seeing the official guidance,” but he expects most to be able to restart routine services next week once officially approved.

Mr Hourihan, who represents 2,000 dentists, said that there would be “a backlog” for patients waiting to be seen and they were “not all going to be accommodated on Monday”.

“Inevitably there is going to be a backlog and that dentists will have to prioritise,” he said.

Mr Harris met the dental association on Friday morning along with senior HSE official Professor Martin Cormican, who is the lead adviser on the revised guidance.

The dental sector has raised concerns about the availability of personal protective equipment and FFP2 face masks - a higher medical grade of mask than normally used - and funding supports for dentists who are struggling due to practice closures or reduced services.

There is concern that the general shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE) during the coronavirus pandemic may prevent some dental surgeries from recommencing regular services.

Mr Hourihan said the Minister had suggested dentists may be able to avail of the Department of Business Covid-19 “restart” grant.

But he told the Minister nearly a third of practices that applied for the Government’s Covid-19 temporary subsidy scheme had been unsuccessful, and 71 per cent of practices that applied for other financial support packages had been unsuccessful.

Mr Hourihan told the minister the Covid-19 pandemic has had “a horrendous effect” on the profession as incomes had fallen dramatically in the lockdown.

The HSE is still assessing PPE required by dentists. A spokeswoman for the health service said it had received a request for PPE from the dental profession and that it would complete a review of the demand for both public and private dentists in the coming days.

“This exercise, and the associated approvals process, will allow us to determine the extent to which we can meet the demand,” she said.

“Notwithstanding the challenging procurement environment in which we are operating, we are intent on supporting this request to the very best of our ability.”