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Phil Taylor: “Use more dental therapists to eliminate the backlog”

A renowned dental professor is encouraging policy makers to consider hiring more dental therapists in a bid to help reduce the large backlog of patients waiting for appointments.

Professor Phil Taylor, Dean of the Faculty of Dental Surgery at the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh, believes that employing more dental therapists, who require a shorter period of training than dentists, would provide much needed support to the sector dental.

Dental therapists are similar to hygienists, but can also perform procedures such as fillings or the extraction of “baby” teeth.

Professor Taylor, who will attend the two-day British Dental Conference and Dentistry Show in Birmingham in May, made the calls after it was revealed that the number of people waiting for a dental appointment had reached 40 million in the UK.

READ MORE: What happened to NHS dentistry?

Professor Taylor said: “After Brexit many Europeans who previously lived and worked in the UK left and moved to other parts of Europe.

“This has had a serious impact on the dental profession in the UK – for example, 37% of dentists in Dumfries and Galloway have left the country since the UK left the EU.

“Scotland in particular is struggling with a real shortage of dentists, and I think we need to be more forward thinking when it comes to tackling the current backlog of patients.

“One way to do this would be to employ not just dentists, but more dental therapists, who can perform many of the procedures usually done by dentists, such as checkups, hygiene and fillings.”

The most recent figures available for Scotland show that just 100,000 adults were seen by a dentist in December 2021, compared to around 300,000 before the pandemic in December 2019.

READ MORE: Warning of ‘impossible to clear’ NHS dental backlog

Waiting list backlogs were exacerbated when dental practices were forced to close for several months at the start of the pandemic, then by strict infection control measures that limited the types and number of infections for much longer. procedures that can be performed on the NHS versus the private sector.

Since April 1, the Scottish Government has introduced a temporary revised payment scheme which will reimburse dental practitioners at a rate of 170 pence for every £1 of treatment carried out on the NHS in a bid to incentivize dentists to continue operating in the NHS, in the middle feared that many dentists were on the verge of leaving the profession or converting their practices into exclusively private businesses.

NHS dental activity remained well below pre-pandemic levels in December 2021 (Source: Public Health Scotland)

Professor Taylor said dental therapists would be ‘fully capable of doing the job that most patients need’.

He added: “A dentist can be in charge of four or five dental therapists. They would carry out the treatment plan and then the dental therapists would perform the actual treatment. Some dental therapists can also do orthodontics and specialize in dentures, so they can really cover a lot of treatment areas.

“My question is, should we focus on training more dentists or should we actively encourage more people to become dental therapists?

“Dentistry is a very long and expensive course, and many dental students have experienced delays in their courses and training due to Covid, so it will be a long time before the workforce returns to its full capacity again.”

READ MORE: Wage row looms between Scottish government and dental profession

Dental therapists can first qualify as a dental nurse and then – if they hold the necessary higher or A levels – earn a degree in oral science.

Professor Taylor said more should be done to speed up the process by which foreign nationals can join the NHS.

He said: “If someone is from a country other than the UK and wants to practice dentistry here, they have to do an overseas registration through the GMC, and there is currently such a backlog at following Covid that very few reviews have been done recently. »

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