HUNDREDS of thousands of patients in Northern Ireland will lose `generations-long' access to dental care if better protective equipment (PPE) is not provided by the NHS, a dentist has warned.
Routine treatment resumed yesterday with limited numbers of appointments to allow for regular cleaning of surgeries and urgent care centres remaining open until the end of August.
Alan Clarke, from Belfast, said without "sustainable options" for PPE "many dental practices will be forced to privatise simply to cover costs, not to turn a profit, or they will go bankrupt".
"We are gravely concerned that hundreds of thousands of patients in Northern Ireland will lose access to dental care which they have been afforded for generations."
Surgeries closed in March as part of the coronavirus lockdown.
For the seventh consecutive day in Northern Ireland no new deaths were recorded with Covid-19, with the total - mostly hospital deaths - 556.
Between Friday and Monday another 23 people have tested positive for coronavirus, with 71 positive results over the last seven days bringing the overall number of recorded infections to 5,857.
In the Republic there were no further coronavirus deaths reported and six confirmed new cases - with its recorded infections 25,766.
Dentists say the Department of Health must cover the cost of the higher level of personal protective equipment `needed during aerosol-generating procedures (AGPs) such as fillings'.
Mr Clarke said people receiving oral cancer screening and "children suffering pain" are among those whose "needs will not be met", adding those from "lower socio-economic backgrounds" will be "hit hardest and hit first".
The Health and Social Care Board said it will provide funding for mask fit testing which "should help alleviate a key constraint for practices in their efforts to provide AGPs" and delivery of £1 million worth of Level 1 PPE "is due to commence this week".
A financial support scheme which paid £16 million to local dentists is extended for a further month to support the return of non-urgent dental care.
The department promised to "engage with the profession" on the need for ongoing financial support for the rest of 2020/21.
Continued easing of coronavirus restrictions has also seen library books once again being borrowed.
A 'Book and Collect' service at 90 libraries across the north allows customers request books by phone for contactless collection.
Omagh and Lisburn City libraries have fully reopened for 30-minute book browsing and limited IT access and will be followed by Bangor Carnegie, Derry Central and Belfast Central on July 23.
Returned library books will be stored for 72 hours before being put back to shelves.