Coronavirus: Dental association warns of inevitable closure of dentists’ practices

Group seeks urgent meeting with Minister amid fears for vulnerable professionals

The Irish Dental Association has requested an urgent meeting with Minister for Health Simon Harris. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw for The Irish Times

The Irish Dental Association has requested an urgent meeting with Minister for Health Simon Harris. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw for The Irish Times

 

The Irish Dental Association has requested an urgent meeting with Minister for Health Simon Harris, saying widespread closures of dental practices are “inevitable” during the Covid-19 crisis.

The association’s chief executive Fintan Hourihan said dentists, due to their work in extremely close proximity to the mouths and throats of patients, are one of the most vulnerable groups of healthcare professionals.

“They use equipment which generates spray and droplets from a patient’s mouth. Even with the use of protective clothing and best practice to minimise droplets or aerosols, it is extremely difficult to do the work of dentistry while trying to minimise the risk of contagion from Covid-19.”

He claimed dentists have been “left in the dark” as to what is expected of them. “In other countries, dental practices have scaled down services on the instructions of relevant authorities but we have had no clear, unambiguous guidance from either the Dental Council or the Health Protection Surveillance Centre (HPSC) as to the current crisis”.

He said the “implication that we can carry on as normal is clearly nonsense. It flouts the national effort to try to increase social distancing and to reduce the spread of the virus”.

A letter to dentists from the chief dental officer at the Department of Health, sent late last week and seen by The Irish Times, advises them to “keep abreast of guidance from the National Public Health Emergency Team and the HPSC as the situation evolves”.

They are told to keep with guidance for healthcare professionals published on the HPSC website, and that if a patient is within risk categories for Covid-19, dental care should be considered only after a dentist has spoken with the patients doctor or a public health official.

A statement from the HSE suggested that at least some specific advice had been issued to dentists.

A spokeswoman said “guiding principles” were in place for dentists, including reducing footfall, improving social distancing and the use of supplies of personal protective equipment. The HSE also said that during the delay phase, “there is a clear emphasis on contacting all patients prior to appointments, the deferral of non-urgent treatments and the minimisation of aerosol generating procedures”.

The HSE said dental services were recommended to use guidance to “phasedown” clinical activity through a series of steps, while keeping patients and staff safe.

Mr Hourihane, the Irish Dental Association chief executive said in the absence of clear directions and the focus on social distancing, “our patients are cancelling their appointments and many of our members are making the decision themselves to close their practices for the duration of this crisis so as not to do anything that might increase the spread of the virus.”

He said he was seeking to meet Mr Harris and “to discuss this situation with the Government as a matter of urgency”.