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Superglue, long drives and cancelled appointments as West Norfolk residents speak of dental woes

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West Norfolk residents, used to being one of the poorest served for dentistry in the country, have said lockdown has seen it hit a new low.

The pandemic has increased the strain on local services with a number of people contacting the Lynn News regarding cancelled appointments and trouble getting onto NHS waiting lists.

Previously we have reported how people in West Norfolk seeking NHS dentistry treatment have been told to travel as far as Boston in Lincolnshire or Lowestoft in Suffolk.

Many residents in West Norfolk are struggling to access dental services
Many residents in West Norfolk are struggling to access dental services

Now readers have flooded us with horror stories. Cancelled appointments, a 45 minute drive to get an NHS dentist and sticking in their own tooth with superglue are among the comments which we have received regarding dental care in the area.

Among them is Lynn resident Ernesta Eivaitė, who has been on a liquid diet due to the pain on her untreated tooth.

Another frustrated resident Erica Robinson said: “I keep getting my appointments cancelled for the whole family for the last two years.”

Dental practices can only see a certain number of patients a day based on current coronavirus guidance, with staff being kitted in full PPE.

But patients have described the lack of dental services in West Norfolk as an “ongoing problem” which has affected many well before the pandemic.

Lynn resident Mark Jones said he moved back to the area four-years-ago but is still without a dentist.

He said: “I tried to get in at more than three places as NHS only to be told by them all that they are not taking any on at the time.

“Around six months later I needed a tooth removed which I had to go to the emergency place in Lynn.

“I am signed off long term sick with mental health issues and brain damage. So I do find this a massive let down that I can’t be seen anywhere.”

Another Lynn resident Elaina Wiksten said she drives more than 25 miles to access an NHS dentist in Watton.

“I cannot afford private treatment otherwise it would be easy to do so,” she said.

These comments come as Norfolk County Council’s health scrutiny committee met last week to discuss reports of a lack of access to dental treatment in the county.

Labour councillor Brenda Jones said: “Dentistry is essential and full of experienced, caring professionals but we need more passion. In 2020 the fact you can’t access an NHS dentist is a scandal.”

Another resident without a dentist is Becky French who said: “I returned from university 10-years-ago and have still not been able to register with a dentist and I drive!

“Every time I ask they say “after Christmas” or “that place in Swaffham is” so I call and no they aren’t.”

Janet Tann, whose appointment for a troublesome tooth was cancelled this month, said: “I wouldn’t mind but I made the appointment before Christmas and it was the earliest I could get in.”

Karen Phillips moved to Lynn four-years-ago and has enquired several times at dental practices in the town without success.

She said she has not been added to an NHS waiting list.

Some patients have even resorted to treating themselves.

Robert Brockwell said: “I had a temporary crown fall out in April. No dentists at all due to Covid 19 and I was not in pain so I didn’t want to go to the hospital. I stuck it back in with superglue.

“Normal superglue only worked for a couple days but you can get dental first aid kits that you can make your own temporary fillings with. However I have found fingernail repair glue worked best.”

Natasha King said she was told to buy a self filling kit from Boots for a broken tooth by a Lynn practice.

But deputy leader of West Norfolk Council, Elizabeth Nockolds has said she has been able to attend two appointments in Gaywood since lockdown.

The British Dental Association has pointed out that dental treatment fell by up to 98 per cent at the height of lockdown.

And research by the Association of Dental Groups found people had tried to treat a cavity themselves in 7.9 per cent of households nationally, while 7.6 per cent had attempted to remove a tooth themselves.

Neil Carmichael, chairman of the association, said: “These findings suggest that when routine appointments restart, dentists across the country should brace themselves for an oral health horror show.”

It comes as the county council’s health scrutiny committee agreed to demand answers from the Department for Health and Social Care .

In papers to the committee, Healthwatch Norfolk looked at more than 90 practices, of which just over a third had not updated information for 50 plus days, and revealing just a handful of practices are accepting new NHS patients without referral.

David Barter, head of commissioning at NHS England and NHS Improvements East of England, said they have not decommissioned or taken away access from any practices in Norfolk.

And Nick Stolls, secretary of the Norfolk Local Dental Committee, added: “Since we’ve reopened again, the pressure my colleagues have been under to do work on patients has been huge. We’ve had to deal with working under new guidance in full PPE for eight hours a day.

“We were in a very difficult situation. We’ve taken some criticism as dentists and I think in some cases that’s been particularly harsh.

“We can only see a certain number of patients a day based on guidance.

“Most of my colleagues are working very hard. I spoke to one yesterday who is taking 32 triages and seeing 16 patients in a day.”

The BDA has said this is an issue extending beyond Norfolk with two-thirds of practices (66 per cent) running at less than a quarter of pre-pandemic capacity due to Covid-19.

Among the issues hitting dentists has been practices have had to invest considerable sums of money making changes to practices in order to comply with social distancing measures and additional cross infection control needs.

Bosses also highlighted soaring PPE prices, needed to protect staff in the Covid pandemic.

The BDA also said 79 per cent per cent of practices nationally are likely or extremely likely to face financial difficulty in three to six months, meaning the prospects of the situation worsening.

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