My nightmarish experience trying to make an emergency dental appointment during the third Covid lockdown


A highlight of my week during the pandemic was the family roast dinner on a Sunday evening.

My dad works in the kitchen while the rest of us try not to spoil our appetites with crisps.

When we finally sat down for our roast last weekend, I saved the Yorkshire pudding for last, the best roast dinner ever in my opinion.

On this occasion, my younger sister had lent a hand in the preparations, in an attempt to attract good graces and avoid having to do the dishes afterwards. It turned out that somewhere in the process, something small and plastic had seeped into my puffy pudding, which I only became aware of when I ate it and broke a tooth worms. the back of my mouth.

I immediately felt something was wrong and shining a light in the recesses of my throat confirmed that part of my tooth was gone, leaving an uncomfortable sharp edge.

I was slightly freaked out from the start about trying to make a dentist appointment during the third national lockdown, especially since all routine dental treatment in Somerset has ceased.

On the NHS 111 website, I filled out a mini quiz to find out what care I needed. The result told me “You should see your dentist within the next 12 hours.”

The major problem was that I didn’t have a dentist in the area. I was only enrolled in a practice at my university, a two-hour drive away.

I called a few practices nearby to be told that no one was accepting new patients.

A telephone operator asked me a series of questions, then referred me to a counselor who asked me another series of questions about my symptoms and if I still had the chipped piece of tooth (alas, I had it). swallowed).

The process of getting an emergency dental appointment has been broken down into three steps in order to manage demand and maintain social distancing.

I was taken to the next step and told my contact details would be forwarded to the Somerset dental consultation team who would call me back within the next 24 hours.

I got a call later that day and another counselor explained to me that the dentists were doing a telephone triage to determine which patients needed a face-to-face appointment, so I received a telephone appointment with a dentist later in the afternoon.

I tried to put aside the somewhat absurd prospect of a telephone appointment with the dentist and explained my symptoms to the dentist.

I found it very difficult to eat food, in part due to an existing cavity on the other side of my mouth that I had ignored because I didn’t know how to get a dentist appointment during the pandemic and I had trouble sleeping because of the throbbing pain, for which I was taking ibuprofen regularly.

The dentist appeared sympathetic but explained that my phone appointment was too late in the day for a face to face appointment to be made and that they were only assigning them daily.

He said I should call 111 again tomorrow and start the whole process over. The best he could offer me so far was a prescription for antibiotics for the pain.

I was surprised by the offer: I didn’t think I had an infection, I just needed a filling and had been refused antibiotics in the past when I had an ear infection, in due to increased antibiotic resistance due to overuse.

The details of the prescription for antibiotics on the NHS website state: “Antibiotics are no longer used routinely to treat infections because many infections are caused by viruses, so antibiotics are not effective; antibiotics are often unlikely to speed up the healing process and can cause side effects; the more antibiotics are used to treat common conditions, the more likely they are to become ineffective in treating more serious conditions.

“The NHS and health organizations around the world are trying to reduce the use of antibiotics, especially for health problems that are not serious. “

I called 111 the next day to repeat the same answers to the same set of questions and start the process over.

I was given another telephone triage appointment with another dental office that afternoon. The dentist asked me to explain my symptoms and then said his office does not schedule face-to-face appointments with patients who are not registered with them. Instead, he offered me a prescription for antibiotics, which I declined as I was on the verge of tears in what seemed like a dire situation.

The dentist seemed to apologize again as he suggested that I call 111 the next day and request an appointment at another office. Alternatively, he suggested that I could go private or put myself on a waiting list somewhere.

I was more and more desperate and very tired, so I decided to consider the cost of a filling through a private dental office, which left me in shock after an office. private nearby quoted me £ 250 for an appointment which could only be scheduled in early February.

The receptionist sensed my reluctance to hire me and told me that she had heard that another practice was taking unregistered patients and gave me their phone number.

The receptionist at this upcoming practice said she does not take unregistered patients and has 650 people on her waiting list.

At this point, I was considering going to the dental office where I am registered for an emergency appointment, despite the risk of a fine for breach of containment. I called them and was told they could put me up the next day for £ 23.80, the standard rate for emergency dental treatment under the NHS.

However, the receptionist also provided me with a new lead: the number for a Somerset dental helpline specifically for unregistered patients.

When I searched for the number, I found it at the bottom of a well-worn page on the Somerset Clinical Commissioning Group website.

I called them mid-morning the next day but was told all face-to-face appointments for that day had been assigned and I needed to call closer to their 8:30 am opening time. to make sure I could get something.

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I called at 8:31 am and finally got through the phone line an hour later to a counselor who told me I had the last phone triage appointment for non patients. registered for the day.

When the dental office called me, I was finally offered a face-to-face meeting. It turned out to be at the office I spoke to on my very first 111 call, days after the 12 hours the NHS suggested I see a dentist inside.

During this time, I had gone through a packet of ibuprofen and had only eaten soft foods for days. I was deeply relieved when I finally got my temporary fill, although it was four days after calling 111 for the first time.

A spokesperson for NHS England and NHS Improvement South West said: ‘We apologize to all those who have not been able to access the dental care they need in a timely manner.

Dental offices follow the latest infection control guidelines which will determine the services they can provide. This means that some dentists will not be able to offer services like they did before the coronavirus pandemic.

“Many practices are currently prioritizing patients based on clinical need while re-mobilizing their overall routine capacity as the pandemic continues.

“During the pandemic, we established emergency dental centers to help manage demand and provide procedures that some offices are unable to provide due to infection prevention and control guidelines.

“Patients are screened by their dental office and can be referred to an emergency dental center for treatment, which means care is available for those with urgent dental needs.

“We continue to work with practices to help them deliver services in a safe and efficient manner for patients and staff, recognizing the need to strengthen safety standards, including personal protective equipment and infection prevention control procedures that inevitably impact capacity. The team monitors patient flow and shares best practices with practices to ensure they are supported to work as efficiently and safely as possible.

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