As dentists hand back their NHS contracts in record numbers, GPs are seeing the impact on their workload and patients’ health, especially in “dental deserts,” reports Sally Howard in this BMJ article.
Over one week this spring, 20 patients presented at GP Abbie Brooks’ York surgery with abscesses, dental pain, and broken teeth—demanding antibiotics and painkillers. Brooks could not prescribe because she was not indemnified to perform dental work. Many of these patients, Brooks says, were not registered with a dentist or able to find an NHS dentist, and had already been told to call 111. The NHS medical helpline had advised patients to visit emergency NHS dentists 50 miles away from Brooks’ surgery.
“Vulnerable patients often can’t get to emergency dentist appointments in Bradford or Leeds for logistical or financial reasons,” she says, adding that a small proportion of patients became difficult when Brooks was unable to help. “One woman was really quite angry that I wouldn’t incise and drain her abscess,” she says. “It’s not acceptable for GPs to have to deal with this crisis not of our doing.”