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Covid-19: Dental Services and Mouth Cancer Diagnosis

Volume 684: debated on Tuesday 17 November 2020

What recent assessment he has made of the effect of the covid-19 outbreak on (a) access to routine dental services and (b) early diagnoses of mouth cancers. (908871)

This Mouth Cancer Action Month is a timely reminder that everybody should seek advice if they are worried. Early in the first wave, dental services were suspended, but rapidly, over 600 urgent dental centres were set up to deliver care. Since June, dentists have continued to prioritise urgent treatment and vulnerable groups and to provide routine care across the dental network. They have worked hard to restore dental activities, while keeping patients and staff safe, owing to some aerosol-generating procedures that mean we have to take particular care in the dental sector.

I recognise the Minister’s comments that people are trying to get back to work in dentistry, but the reality is that there is massively reduced dental capacity; routine dental work is not going ahead as easily as people might imagine. Dentistry also plays a vital role in identifying mouth cancers. Following on from a previous question, I wonder what help the Minister can give dental surgeries to improve their capacity. Currently, they have to have an hour’s gap between patients. I understand that ventilation systems are available, which can help, but unfortunately they are very expensive. What help can Ministers give to enable dentists’ surgeries to purchase that equipment? Can grants be made available? This is a really urgent question.

I recognise the hon. Lady’s concern in this area. I assure her that I am working closely with NHS Improvement and the chief dental officer. I have held several meetings over the past week alone, and tomorrow I am meeting the chair of the British Dental Association. Some areas of challenge that she articulates, such as fallow time and so on, are things that we are actively working on at pace, as well as looking at specific testing solutions for dentistry. We are also looking at the issue of ventilation. I am happy to report when further work has been achieved.