Sir Paul Beresford MP for Mole Valley successfully secured an adjournment debate on Wednesday 23 May 2007 in the House of Commons, where he voiced his concerns to Health Minister Rosie Winterton in light of new guidance about infectivity of variant Creutzfeldt – Jakob disease (vCJD).
Preliminary research on mice indicated a possible risk of Transmissible Spongiform Encephalopthies (TSE) infection from pulpal tissue via endodontic files and reamers. The Department of Health’s Chief Dental Officer for England, Barry Cockcroft, sent letters to all dentists in the country advising them to treat endodontic files and reamers as single use. Despite no reported or even suspected cases of vCJD transmission occurring from dental treatment, dentists were told not to re-use endodontic instruments even after following correct decontamination procedures such as autoclaving.
Amongst Sir Paul’s criticisms of the Department of Health’s hasty advice was the matter of expense. After the fiasco of the new NHS dental contract, the department now expects dentists to pay for extra dental instruments, namely single use reamers and files for endodontic work, without passing the cost onto their patients. He questioned why only two types of apparatus were viewed as a danger, when other instruments may become contaminated with blood or dental tissue during dental treatment. Further, he pointed out that in a paper reported in a very recent issue of the British Dental Journal, transference was considered possible from extractions and endodontics did not get a mention.
Sadly, with this new guidance leading to higher costs associated with root canal treatment and the perception amongst the general public that this treatment could expose them to a fatal illness as horrific as vCJD, patients are likely to opt out of root canal procedures leading to an increase in extractions and implant placement.
Rosie Winterton did say that research was still on going and a fuller risk assessment was underway.