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Dentists in the News

2017 is barely a few hours old and dentistry is already making the news and for once it's not the Daily Mail fulminating against the profession.  No, 2017 starts with two splashes of media coverage both laden with a dose of altruism.  

The Daily Telegraph has published a letter signed by over one thousand dental professionals arguing that NHS dentistry is an underfunded bust flush and that the sooner it is taken out of political hands, the better.  To justify the claim, the author - a repsected Specialist in Prosthodontics -  cites the fact that extraction of rotten teeth under general anaestheitc is still the biggest reason for childhood admissions to hospital. This, in 2017 is, of course, shameful.   The letter then shines a torch on the fact that in some parts of the UK dental 'chariities' are having to grapple with emergency treatment and that as exposed by ITV This Morning, the NHS111 service has serious shortcomings.  Watered down obesity and sugar-tax policies are also cited as areas of failure.

Here in Hertford, we are relatively lucky. The area is pretty affluent, at least comparatively, and we at Hudson's Dental Care see thankfully few children whose teeth are so problematic that they require referral for multiple extractions under general anaesthesia.  New patients may have to wait several weeks for a check-up, but we are still managing to drip feed new patients into our appointments diary - no mean feat given how the population of Hertford and Ware is growing with no expansion in the provision of services like dentistry.  And we have only received positive feedback from those few patients of ours unfortunate enough to have to call 111 for out of hours advice on how best to manage tooth ache when we're closed.  We are not claiming that NHS dentistry is perfect and indeed there are many things we would like to change about it. But the experience of many others in the UK is alarming and makes us all very grateful for the fact that at least locally, NHS dentistry is highly valued and appreciated by most of the local population and the dentists who still choose to provide it.

The second splash of coverage was on the BBC, drawing attention to a call by the Faculty of Dental Surgery - part of the Royal College of Surgeons - for an end to the culture of 'cake' in the workplace. Anniversaries, births, marriages and deaths, whatever the excuse it seems staff rooms across the nation are full of cakes, biscuits and tasty sugary treats.  Every foreign holiday sees our staff room replenished with baclava, amaretti biscuits, Toblerone or Turkish Delight leading me to conclude that if that is what our workplace is like the Faculty's assessment of the nation must be spot on.

Christmas ushers in a conveyor belt of sugar.  Not that we are to blame you know, it's our suppliers, the companies from whom we buy all those specialist materials used to fix rotten and broken teeth.  Throughout December tubs of Roses, Celebrations or Quality Street arrive on an almost daily basis, each one a 'token' of appreciation for our custom. Grateful patients too rock up with lovely tins of shortbread or biscuit selection boxes.  And did somebody mention the lovely M&S mince pies? We've still got a healthy supply in the kitchen cupboard and, despite a widespread desire to break with the excesses of Christmas, with their 17th January expiry date only colleagues with an iron willpower are able to eschew the temptation to have a naughty nibble with their mid-moring or afternoon cuppa.  We may work in a dental practice, but we're capable of being every bit as human as our most sweet toothed patients especially when around chocolate.

It's true, we Brits do pig far too much.  Those sweet snacks between meals are causing untold damage to our oral health, our waistlines and challenge the ability of our NHS to mop up the fallout. The Faculty of Dental Surgery is absolutely right to draw our attention to it as it, like the NHS, like us, is in the business of promoting prevention over cure.  And it is prevention of dental decay that is the single biggest challenge the NHS dental services face because so much avoidable disease is self-inflicted. Changing the culture, so that people don't bring a box of baclava back from their Greek island holiday for the staff room to devour and suppliers make donations to charity instead of sending Celebrations to their customers is going require a seismic shift in how people think and behave, infiltrating the psyche far deeper than any 'sugar tax' will achieve. But once upon a time (in the 1950s) over eighty percent of the population smoked and now that figure is around twenty percent.  The enduring question is do we want to change our habits and how can government, the NHS and dental practices motivate them to do so?

by Paul Stanyer    3rd January 2017

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