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Nearly 400,000 GP consultations are for tooth problems

RCGP says more needs to be done to improve access to dental services

Mark Gould

Thursday, 25 October 2018

New research* reveals that there are around 380,000 consultations in UK general practice every year where patients are seeking help for a dental problem because they do not have access to a dentist.

The researchers, writing in the British Journal of General Practice, spent a year interviewing UK adults across the UK who had consulted a GP with a dental problem in the previous 12 months.

They found that there were several reasons why patients may consult a GP with a dental problem. They say "effective interventions" will be needed to break down the barriers preventing access to dental care.

"Accessible public-facing information on where to seek care for dental problems is required, and general practice teams should be able to signpost patients who present with dental problems, if appropriate. Dental providers should also be encouraged to maintain timely access to urgent care for their patients."

Responding to the findings, Dr Steve Mowle, the honorary treasurer of the Royal College of GPs (RCGP), said the college recognises that patients may struggle to get an NHS dental appointment, just as much a getting a GP appointment.

"What's essential is that patients understand where to turn when they need medical attention to access care most appropriate for their needs, and to ensure scant NHS resources are used most effectively.

"While GPs are trained to deal with a multitude of health concerns, we are not trained to treat dental problems – they are best left to the care of a professional dentist or, if required, urgent care services. With GPs already seeing more than a million patients in the UK every day, and increasing number of patients waiting more than a week to see a GP, seeing patients with dental problems isn't the best use of our time, and anyone who does try to book an appointment for a dental problem will most likely be referred to an appropriate alternative."

*Cope AL, Wood F, Francis NA, et al. Patients’ reasons for consulting a GP when experiencing a dental problem: a qualitative study. Br J Gen Pract 22 October 2018; bjgp18X699749. DOI:10.3399/bjgp18X699749

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