Dental practices in England have been told they can reopen from Monday, 8 June, if they put in place appropriate safety measures.
All routine dental care in England has been suspended since 25 March.
The British Dental Association (BDA) has welcomed the announcement but says key questions remain.
Currently, any patient with an emergency dental problem is supposed to be referred to an Urgent Dental Care (UDC) hub for treatment.
In a letter to all practices, NHS England's chief dental officer, Sara Hurley, said: "We are asking that all dental practices commence opening from Monday, 8 June for all face-to-face care, where practices assess that they have the necessary IPC and PPE requirements in place."
The BDA said that while dentists would be relieved by the announcement, the ability of practices to reopen would depend on the availability of personal protective equipment (PPE).
"It is right to allow practices to decide themselves when they are ready to open. Dentists will be keen to start providing care as soon as is safely possible, but we will need everyone to be patient as practices get up and running," said BDA chairman Mick Armstrong.
"Dentists can open their doors but won't be able to provide a full range of care without the necessary kit. Longer term, practices can only stay afloat with ongoing support, while social distancing continues and the costs of providing care are sky high."
Some practices say it is going to be a challenge to reopen on 8 June.
"We've got a few issues," says Sophia Joseph, an NHS dentist practice manager in Sheffield.
"One of the biggest issues is PPE. We were asked to donate our PPE to other causes, like hospitals and care homes.
"Now we're being told to get that PPE back. I'm not sure if we will reopen, as it will be extremely difficult to get the PPE and maintain it," she says.
What is the current situation with dentists?
At the moment any patient with an emergency dental problem is supposed to be referred to an Urgent Dental Care (UDC) hub. More than 550 of these centres have been created to provide emergency treatment while meeting social distancing requirements.
However, the BDA has previously warned about problems with the UDC hubs, including PPE shortages, which has left many patients going untreated.
How will going to the dentist be different?
Going to the dentist is likely to be a very different experience once practices reopen.
Ms Hurley has written to dentists about the sort of measures practices will need to consider before reopening, including:
- Limiting use of waiting areas, with patients waiting outside if they arrive early
- Waiting rooms chairs spaced 2m apart
- Screening staff on a daily basis
- Installing physical barriers, such as a plastic shield, in reception areas
Some dentists are already putting in place new measures.
"We will arrange regular deep-cleanings of the entire surgery, and probably be including UV-light cleaners as well," says Alexandra Germain, a dentist based in Marylebone, London.
She also says that hand sanitiser, masks and gloves will be mandatory for patients in the waiting area.
How do I get dental treatment right now?
If symptoms are serious, local dentists can prescribe medication, such as painkillers and antibiotics, over the phone. In such cases, dentists can contact local pharmacies, which can then prepare medication for patients to pick up.
If a patient has an urgent dental problem, they should be referred to a UDC hub by their dentist. Other emergency treatment may also be available. For example, some hospitals may offer emergency dental appointments.
However, if a patient cannot reach their local dentist then the advice is to use the 111 online service.
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