GPs fill gaps in dental care, survey reveals

A survey has found that patients are using GPs to fill gaps in dental treatment.

And some GP practices are seeing more than one dental case a week, according to the rapid response survey carried out by the National Association of Primary Care (NAPC) on 4 February.

The survey follows controversial comments made last October by health minister at the time, Ben Bradshaw.

Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, he commented that patients who could not see a dentist should visit their GP for treatment instead.

His words were in response to a survey conducted by the Commission for Patient and Public Involvement in Health that showed some patients were resorting to pulling out their own teeth because they could not get seen at an NHS dentist.

In this latest NAPC survey, 15 out of 21 practices said they saw more than one dental case a week more than one dental case a week because of the failure of dental services in the locality, or because of patients’ failure to use services appropriately.

Patients were presenting with dental problems including abscesses, pain or infections, and in one case, lacerations resulting from a brace.

Several practices also commented that they were seeing children who had to have their teeth extracted because of decay and lack of access to dental services.

Other comments indicated that even where patients had dentists they could not access them for the treatment of abscesses; or patients thought they had to get a referral from a GP for attendance at a dental hospital.

Also, patients who could not access emergency dental services easily said GPs were a much easier point of contact.

Practices were also asked about the existence of emergency dental services and almost all practices that responded were unclear about their availability.

The NAPC conducted the survey to gauge the frequency of general practice consultations, if any, because of the failure or lack of dental services.

A separate rapid response survey of PCTs was carried out on the same evening, asking PCTs about the provision of emergency dental and out-of-hours dental services in attempt to obtain a balanced and rounded perspective.

All PCTs were invited to respond; 18 did so within the timeframe provided.

Of those PCTs who replied, all, except one, had arrangements in place for the treatment of dental emergencies, both in and out of hours.

• The rapid response process poses questions and invites responses within a very short timeframe.

The answers to the questions are then collated, graduated and evaluated with a view to providing a snapshot of trends in primary care.

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