I wrote an article in East Anglia Bylines in February about obtaining emergency medicines and the changes to the arrangements. This set me off thinking about current emergency dental services. So here is what I found out.
A temporary fix
During lockdown in 2020, I lost a bit of a filling and this left me with a very sensitive mouth. Hot, or especially cold, drinks and food were difficult to cope with. My dentist offered helpful advice over the phone but Covid stopped anything further. The only option seemed to be “do it yourself”, for example by buying some over-the-counter temporary filling compound from a chemist.
The dentist was aware that local supplies of the compound were already short in the local area. So they recommended phoning before I risked travelling anywhere. I secured some but I had to get there within the hour as it would not be held for me indefinitely. I wondered why the pack had two small tubs when one would obviously be enough, surely?
Well, it does take some skill! Over a couple of days and two attempts and a lot of garbled swearing and swilling out the fragments that didn’t stick (with tepid, warm water!) I did manage. I was grateful to get a call a few weeks later to ask how I was getting on, so that my dentist could prioritise patients when the surgery reopened.
I ended up being able to help a friend out by giving them the spare tub. A satisfying good deed.
Finding dental care
This experience made me realise how lucky I am to have a dentist. When we moved house a few years ago we couldn’t find a dentist who accepted NHS patients, so we signed up to Denplan (other private insurance options are available).
A quick search via the NHS website reveals that of the 38 surgeries listed within a ten mile radius of Ipswich town centre, just three were offering registration for free care. Thirty-five others were listed, of which five had not updated their details recently (two not since 2012), so it was unclear if they were taking patients. Ten were clearly not taking NHS patients at all.
Who should be ensuring this information is kept up to date? The remaining 20 are not taking new patients, and will only take those who are referred to them following a call to NHS 111. So good old NHS111 comes to the rescue again! You need them to assess whether you need an emergency referral.
Know your facts!
Interestingly, When to use NHS111 does not specifically mention dental emergencies. However, when you search for dental emergency and out-of-hours care, there is a link to contact them if you are not registered with a dentist. They will direct you to a dentist, for just this episode of emergency care, and this will cost you £23.80. If you are entitled to free NHS dentistry, much like free prescriptions criteria, the cost can be claimed back. Afterwards.
All too often, in situations like this, the onus is on the public to keep informed. You need to know that NHS dentistry is only what is clinically necessary, just sufficient to be considered dentally fit. You’ll not find anything to do with aesthetics here. You also need to be aware of your entitlements and exemptions. Oh, and to ask for NHS treatment, especially if, when you are already in the chair, the dentist offers new, additional treatment beyond what was originally agreed. Make sure it’s NHS treatment! That was the lesson I learned from my previous dentist. Since then, I’ve learned a whole lot more.