Dentistry’s 2021 round up

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This year is another abnormal year rocked by the pandemic. Here we sum up the year’s biggest headlines in dentistry.

January

COVID-19: dental services to remain open during third national lockdown

As 2020 drew to a close, we all breathed a sigh of relief and prepared for a fresh start. While this year may not have been quite as momentous as the previous, its beginnings were undoubedtly a blow to our expectations.

On 4 January, Boris Johnson revealed that the country will head into its third lockdown with the public facing the toughest restrictions since the first lockdown in March. One silver lining? Dentistry could remain open.

Dental teams ‘second in line’ for COVID-19 vaccine

Thankfully, arguably the biggest January event was the proper launch of the UK’s COVID-19 vaccination scheme. Dentists and all of the dental team were one of the first groups eligible for the jab, with many rushing to take up the offer.

This was the start of one of the world’s most efficient vaccination rollouts, hitting key targets such as offering the vaccine to all adults by July 2021.

February

‘Completely unacceptable’ – dentist ‘physically assaulted’ in dental practice

With dental teams feeling the full force of access pressures, the assault of a dentist sent waves through the profession. Minister Jo Churchill, who was responsible for dentistry at the time, labelled the incident ‘completely unacceptable’.

Unfortunately it was not the last incident that dental teams faced from frustrated patients.

‘I thought it was a misprint’ – BDJ cites female professional as ‘filling a gap’ between male colleagues

Gender inequality within dentistry was brought to the forefront, a conversation that continued throughout 2021.

The BDJ came under fire from its audience for its ‘archaic’ content after a female dental professional was described as ‘filling a gap’ between male colleagues.

Linda Wallace – whose credentials include an MBE awarded in 2009 – was described as bridging the gap between two male equivalents who held the same position.

March

Reports found that it was not all bad, however. The dental market in the UK had experienced a ‘strong recovery’ from the impact of the pandemic, according to research from Christie & Co. For example 35% of practice owners said they were experiencing higher revenues than before COVID-19.

This upward trend was particularly evident in the private sphere, where many clinicians saw an increase in aesthetic interests.

‘Forgotten healthcare profession’ – dental nurse turned away from vaccine appointment

One of the worst themes to carry on into 2021 was the under-appreciation of dental professionals and their pandemic efforts.

One dental nurse spoke out after she was turned away from her vaccine appointment despite all dental team members qualifying for the jab. As the story surfaced, the outrage from the profession is understandable – especially after deployment and eight months of heavy PPE and restrictions.

April

GDC acted ‘unlawfully’ using undercover operations

More GDC grievances hit the headlines in April. Reports emerged that it acted unlawfully by using undercover operations without reasonable justification.

A dental technician was the subject of an anonymous complaint to the GDC that he may be working without registration.

The GDC instructed an under-guise operation. It involved a fictitious scenario with two private investigators posing as relatives of ‘Evelyn’, an elderly relative needing dentures but too ill to attend in person. Needless to say, they were forced to pay out an ‘undisclosed sum’ to the technician.

NHS dental targets increase to 60% from April

From 45% to 60% – April marked a significant hike in NHS dentistry targets.

From 1 April, dental practices had to deliver 45% of their contracts in order to avoid financial penalties. The move was slammed by the BDA, which argued that targets have ‘no place’ during a pandemic.

May

NHS dental practice owner held liable for negligence of associate dentist

A huge landmark judgement in dentistry – a former owner of an NHS dental practice is to be vicariously liable for negligence after alleged poor treatment provided by an associate dentist. Approved by Cardiff County Court, he owed a delegable duty of care to the NHS patient.

This follows an alleged malpractice carried out by an associate at his practice. The judgement was one of significance – a cause for concern for many, it provoked questions about patient powers in the future.

COVID-19 – dental treatments no riskier than glass of water

You read that right. According to research, the watery solution from irrigation tools – rather than saliva – was the key source of bacteria and viruses in the droplets from patients’ mouths.

‘Getting your teeth cleaned does not increase your risk for COVID-19 infection any more than drinking a glass of water from the dentist’s office does,’ said Purnima Kumar, a professor of periodontology at Ohio State University.

With access troubles continuing, however, patients needed no convincing to turn up for appointments.

June

COVID-19 – ultrasonic scaling ‘could be lower risk than it currently is’

One year since strict standard operating procedures (SOPs) came into force for dentistry, research suggested AGPs are of lower risk than first assumed.

Many common treatments carry a very low risk of increasing the spread of COVID. And some procedures – such as ultrasonic scaling – were not shown to produce any aerosol other than from the clean instrument itself.

British Army soldiers warned against teeth whitening dangers

Soldiers in the British Army were fired warnings from army dentists after a surge in the number of troops looking into teeth whitening treatments. Dental officer major Christoph Harper put together an article in Soldier magazine to warn personnel about the health implications of ‘unnaturally’ white teeth.

With ‘Zoom boom’ aesthetic trends continuing, 2021 was very much about getting the right messages out to the public.

July

What does the 19 July mean for dentistry?

Monday 19 July or ‘freedom day’ – the date we all waved goodbye to restrictions that shaped UK lives for almost a year and a half.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson followed through with his promise to end social distancing and the legal obligation to wear a face mask. But many dentists warned that practices could not afford to drop the ball when it came to safety.

Dentist to fight high court decision on vicarious liability

July saw legal worries resurface for dentists. Raj Rattan – a Dental Protection member and its dental director – announced he would fight the recent high court decision on vicarious liability and non-delegable duty of care.

It was ruled that he is liable to patient Mrs Hughes for the treatment carried out by an associate at his former practice. The patient pursued a claim against Mr Rattan despite the identification of the treating dentists. They were also willing to respond to the claim.

August

Dental nursing roles see 72% salary increase compared to last year, says recruitment site

With more and more dental nurses looking to leave the profession, research found dental nursing roles were offered a 72% salary increase across the last year.

Although this was disputed by many, it did indicate the high demand for good dental nurses across the UK.

An anonymous dentist got in touch with Dentistry, saying: ‘Many nurses have left the industry since the first lockdown. European nurses have gone home while few European nurses are coming here now. The nurses who are left are overworked and burned out.’

Dental care in Scotland now free for 18 to 25-year-olds

The big news for Scotland was that 18 to 25-year-olds were made eligible for free NHS dental care.

From 25 August, more than 600,000 young people no longer have to fork out the cash for treatment. This follows the SNP pledge to scrap the charges following their re-election in May.

September

Dentistry’s Social Stars – the profession’s top influencers

We pulled together some of dentistry’s top social stars to celebrate their efforts and achievements.

From Instagram to Tiktok, the list featured a range of big names who put out anything from viral videos to clinical cases.

Prime Minister says NHS will be a ‘better place’ for dental profession

Prime Minister Boris Johnson claimed the latest government investments will make the NHS a better place for the dental profession.

He faced questions from MP Robert Goodwill, who confronted the country’s leader on the dire state of NHS dentistry. He insisted the government is delegating a chunk of funding to improve access. Only time will tell…

October

Dental nursing – dentistry’s ‘most devastating recruitment crisis’ in 30 years

The dental nursing recruitment crisis continues, with two figures shedding light on the realities of the situation. They describe how dental practices are finding it increasingly difficult to attract talent as more dental nurses voice their grievances.

Changes are needed – and quickly – if recruitment pressures are going to ease.

Toothless in Suffolk – campaigners march streets for better NHS dental care

The emergence of a patient-led dentistry campaign really hit home the extent of the problem.

Toothless in Suffolk was set up demanding an ‘NHS dentist for everyone’ after serious access troubles in the area. Campaigners took to the streets to raise awareness, attracting national media coverage and the attention of leading dental figures.

With the group now working nationwide, we can expect to see more of this into 2022.

November

COVID-19 vaccines ‘mandatory for NHS staff from April’

Arguably the biggest news in the second half of 2021 was that dental staff will have to be double vaccinated by April if they are to continue working.

A controversial move, the decision sparked debate across the profession with questions on human rights and the ethics of healthcare dominating conversation. We are yet to see the full effect of this. But suspect it will be a crucial turning point in 2022.

Dentist defrauded NHS of £74,000 through hundreds of false claims

Putting it bluntly, £74,000 is a lot of money to steal from the NHS. But this was perhaps harder to hear during a pandemic.

Dr Sheena Lalani fabricated claims in order to boost the amount of money she was paid by the NHS.

One example saw the clinician falsely claim to have carried out 45 treatments in one day. Although she paid back the money (plus inflation), the judge passed a damning judgment. He called the fraud ‘sophisticated, well thought out and well executed’.

December

Dentist poses with fake arm to dodge COVID-19 vaccine

In one of the most bizarre stories of the year, a dentist in Italy tried to dodge the COVID-19 vaccine by wearing a fake arm.  With more countries imposing mandatory vaccinations for healthcare workers, it was inevitable that stories would emerge of individuals attempting to avoid it. The president of Piedmont and its regional health councillor sum up the incident well – that the case would ‘border on the ridiculous, if it were not for the fact we are talking about a gesture of enormous gravity’.

Dental professionals need to have first vaccine dose by February

Unvaccinated dental professionals were told they have to receive their first vaccine by 3 February 2022 if they are to meet the April deadline. Although vaccinated himself, Neel Kothari – a dentist based in Cambridgeshire – said the move will lead to a shortfall in care. ‘I worry that forcing this issue on an already largely compliant group of individuals has a significant risk of backfiring and could lead to countless health related deaths through a lack of available car,’ he told Dentistry.


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