She sprang onto the scene a year ago like an unwanted relative and within months created a global presence even social media couldn’t conjure up. Now there is not a soul unaffected by her.  

Coronavirus may have favourably extended my school holidays with a national lockdown, but with it came the sudden closure of many businesses including all dental practices and for me the cancellation of my much-awaited appointment to have my braces removed. A disappointment certainly, but trivial compared to thousands of patients forced to manage their own dental pain as important healthcare services were reduced to boost the fight against this global pandemic.

Dental practices were closed because the high-speed drill was thought to exacerbate the spread of the virus particles which are so tiny. So enhanced PPE was deemed necessary but unavailable.

I had the opportunity of interviewing four dentists for their personal perspective on this crisis.

Dr Wright, a general dentist from Barry, South Wales said lockdown was in a way a relief as going to work was becoming more and more stressful in the weeks leading up to it. Patients were becoming more sceptical about coming to the practice and staff felt extremely vulnerable with only basic PPE.

However, for Dr Khatkar, a practice owner from Birmingham, not knowing how to support her practice created a lot of uncertainty. She described her sadness at the reality of seeing the computerised day list, coloured coded for each dentist, quicky turn white as appointments were cancelled. She was not only worried about her patients being unable to access much needed treatment but also the financial impact on her staff and business. Fortunately, she explained NHS practices continued to be supported and the government furlough scheme meant valued jobs could be protected.

Dr Lal, a dentist in Southall explained that her practice is in an area of London that is ethnically diverse with a high BAME community and large transient population due to nearby Heathrow. Many of her patients would normally be drop ins who sought treatment on the basis of need. This is no longer possible as dental practices now operate “entry by appointment only” so patients are screened beforehand which has reduced the number she treats from 25/day to 8.

Dr Gupta, the owner of a private orthodontic practice in Chichester has a different perspective. She did not benefit from any NHS support during lockdown but the practice has been busy since reopening as patients who haven’t been able to go on holiday, now have a disposable income that they can use for self-improvement, like braces.

During Lockdown people without access to medical and dental advice have been taking matters into their own hands using the internet. Dr Wright said some people were using superglue to fix their crowns and even taking their own teeth out. 

During lockdown there have been many emergencies especially in children with extreme tooth decay, which has increased referrals to hospitals for general anaesthetic, adding pressure on hospital NHS resources.

More positively, all the dentists reported that they felt more appreciated by the general public and felt the treatment they provided was more valued as patients realised how lucky they are to receive this care under the NHS. Coronavirus has taught us not to take our NHS healthcare for granted.

Dentists working in NHS practices always feel overstretched, however now they are seeing less people, it allows them more time with their patients, enabling them to be able to build a relationship, providing a better experience overall.

Lastly, I asked if they would recommend dentistry to someone my age (14) as a possible career choice. Dr Wright said “Yes, it is a very rewarding job and a good one, but stressful trying to balance patient care within tight financial constraints and increased regulations." Dr Khatkar said “It is a stressful career as you are dealing with the public but it is very flexible and rewarding working with people.” Dr Gupta said “Yes! Absolutely it has been commercialised because of the demand for cosmetic procedures but oral health is medically very important. It is fulfilling as you are making a difference to someone’s oral comfort and confidence in their smile.”