Northern Ireland news

Northern Ireland sees 78 per cent drop in adult dental examinations due to pandemic

The number of children requiring fillings and extractions has fallen over the last eight years during the pandemic year

DENTISTS lost almost £19 million in revenue from patients during the Covid-19 pandemic.

The latest Department of Health data reveals patient contributions fell from £26m in 2019/20 to £7.1m in the latest year.

However, practices have managed to avoid a fall in income with £51.9m of government assistance bringing the gross cost of dental services to £131.7m.

Last year that figure was £130.9m.

The bulletin notes from March 18 2020, general dental practitioners "were informed to restrict the provision of aerosol generating procedures (AGPs)" and to completely stop all such treatment five days later and postpone routine dental treatments.

From March 23 face-to-face treatment was limited to urgent and emergency dental conditions which could not be managed remotely or a non-AGP.

It details how the "rebuilding" of dental services began "in phases" from June 8 2020, with routine dental care again offered from July 20 2020 and "AGPs provided in general dental practice".

However, Chief Dental Officer Michael Donaldson told the Irish News earlier this month "activity levels" are only around 40 per cent, with up to half a million patients who have not been seen since the start of the pandemic and no immediate sign of a return to pre-pandemic levels.

The bulletin details a 78 per cent drop in adult dental examinations in 2019/20 "which can be explained by the impact of the pandemic and the restrictions placed on dental practices".

For children the fall was 57 per cent "again attributable to the pandemic".

The number of children requiring fillings and extractions has fallen over the last eight years with "significant reductions of 75 per cent and 53 per cent respectively in the most recent, pandemic affected, year".

The report acknowledges "the impact of Covid-19 restrictions on dental practices in turn has had an impact on" services and "the number of patients seen", with practices given monthly "financial support scheme payments to "stabilise" their finances.

Practices were "also with provided personal protective equipment (PPE) payments".

There are now 368 dental practices with 1,142 registered dentists - an increase of 19 per cent over the last decade.

Ninety-four per cent of people in Northern Ireland within five miles of a dental practice and 88 per cent within three miles in more urban areas.

There are now more female than male dentists (57 per cent), with the majority of new dentists women and 68 per cent of those under 35 being female - in older age groups (50 and above) the reverse is true with 66 per cent male.

While 65 per cent of the population is registered with an NHS dentist (including 72 per cent of children), Fermanagh and Omagh council area has "a significantly lower proportion of the adult population registered" at just 46 per cent - although its rate of child registrations is at the regional average.

In the 18-44 age group 74 per cent of females registered compared to just 58 per cent of males.

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