Since 23 March when the UK went into lockdown, anyone requiring a non-urgent appointment with their dentist has had to wait.
Now all private and NHS dental practices in England are permitted to reopen from Monday 8 June, according to chief dental officer, Sara Hurley.
In a letter to dentists, Ms Hurley said face-to-face care can resume from that date but not without necessary infection prevention measures in place first.
Emergency dental work has been available since March, but with skeleton staff and concerns around transmission of Covid-19 between patients and staff working in such a close-contact environment, NHS England stopped all routine, non-urgent dental care and orthodontics.
Approximately 500 urgent units have been treating patients from 9,000 closed practices. Other people have taken measures into their own hands and performed DIY dentistry at home.
So when can you expect to book an appointment now practices are reopening?
When will dentists reopen?
All dental practices in England are permitted to reopen from 8 June but this doesn’t mean your local practice will open its doors as soon as that.
Scotland and Wales have not yet announced a specific date to reopen dentists.
All practices in England will have to implement infection prevention measures and have adequate supplies of personal protective equipment (PPE) for staff, before considering opening to the public.
“Individual practices will decide when to open and will risk manage the steps to resume full service,” says Ms Hurley.
When will I get an appointment?
The nature of your dental problem will likely dictate where you are on the waiting list. Ms Hurley urged “everyone to be patient” to start.
The British Dental Association (BDA) has told practices to prioritise patients with urgent need and from vulnerable groups when resuming services.
But it warned of a phased return to pre-pandemic numbers, saying infection control and social distancing could reduce capacity by up to two thirds. So don’t necessarily expect to get an appointment on 8 June.
What problems are dentists likely to face?
The BDA warned patients that the availability of PPE may limit the speed that dental care is restored, with different practices likely to vary.
A Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) spokesperson said: “We are working around the clock to ensure frontline healthcare staff – including those at the 500 NHS urgent dental centres – have the PPE they need.
“Dentistry is on the supply priority list and we have established new distribution routes for the sector to ensure continuity of supply across all urgent dental care centres.”
BDA chair Mick Armstrong also says that without the necessary kit to hand, dentists might not be able to offer a full array of services at the beginning. He explains: “Dentists can open their doors but won’t be able to provide a full range of care without the necessary kit.”
Where does this fit into the rest of the lockdown roadmap?
On 28 May England entered the second phase of lockdown easing as the five key tests have been met; these include a reduction in Covid-deaths and falling of the R-number (the average number of people infected by every Covid patient).
Phase two included measures such as allowing people to meet others from outside their household as long as they are outside, two metres apart and no more than six in a group.
This stage will also see the reopening of non-essential retailers, like fashion stores and betting shops, on 15 June.
Moving into the third phase will be contingent on meeting further key tests.