WITH the easing of some lockdown restrictions announced last night, dental practices across the North-East are set to reopen in less than two weeks' time.
In a letter to all dental practices in the country, Sara Hurley, chief dental officer, said face-to-face care in practices can resume next month.
Adding that all practices will need to have the correct personal protective equipment (PPE), necessary infection prevention and control requirements.
Dentists were told to shut down at the beginning of the coronavirus lockdown following concerns over social distancing measures and a lack of widespread PPE.
However, Ms Hurley said all dental practices in England can reopen from June 8, although individual practices will be able to decide to open at a later date.
In the joint letter with Matt Neligan, NHS England director of primary care and system transformation, Ms Hurley said: "We support the full resumption of routine dental care, in a way that is safe, operationally deliverable and allows dental practices flexibility to do what is best for patients and their teams."
'A phased return'
Ms Hurley said there would be a phased return to pre-pandemic patient numbers due to infection control requirements and patient behaviour.
Dentists will be keen to start providing care as soon as safely possible, but we will need everyone to be patient as practices get up and running.
Dental practices are advised to prioritise patients both with urgent need and from vulnerable groups when resuming services.
The plans were developed in consultation with groups including the British Dental Association (BDA).
The BDA has welcomed the plans, but warned that expectations need to be managed adding that infection control and social distancing could reduce capacity by up to two thirds.
The dental trade union added that the availability of PPE may limit the speed that dental care is restored, with different practices likely to vary.
The BDA has called for the Government to include dentistry in its wider PPE strategy to help a universal return to full dental care, as well as financial support including a business rates holiday.
BDA chair Mick Armstrong said: "A return of high street dentistry we will be welcome news to millions of patients left with few options during lockdown, but key questions remain.
"It is right to allow practices to decide themselves when they are ready to open.
"Dentists will be keen to start providing care as soon as safely possible, but we will need everyone to be patient as practices get up and running.
"Dentist can open their doors but won't be able to provide a full range of care without the necessary kit.
"Longer term, practices can only stay afloat with ongoing support, while social distancing continues and the costs of providing care are sky-high.
"Opening the floodgates risks raising false expectations, unless Government is willing to step up and help."