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What impact will a vaccine have on dental practice?

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  Posted by: The Probe      27th November 2020

Charlotte Gentry presents her first experiences as a newly qualified dentist.

With all the headlines over the past couple of weeks about a potential Covid vaccine, it has made me reflect on what this may do for us as dentists and the future of dentistry. Although yet to be authorised by the regulating authorities, it is becoming very likely that the new vaccine will become available by the end of the year. Where us as dental professionals will be on the list of priority is still unknown, however, it made me think about the short-, medium- and long-term impacts a vaccine may have on dentistry.

In the short term, I wonder what, if any, our role will be in delivering the vaccine and educating patients on the importance of vaccination. The scale of the task is huge; with GP surgeries having to deliver the bulk of the vaccine, alongside the flu vaccine, there are concerns over how they will be able to maintain all of their usual services. There are discussions around training up non-medical staff to deliver these to help with the workload. I wonder whether we as dentists could help with the delivery of this vaccine. The counterargument is that there is such a backlog of patients requiring dental treatment, having more time out of practice would add to the pile. However, although there will be an impact in the short term, long-term, this vaccination will enable things to get closer to normal, thus reducing this backlog and weighing out the cost of dentists helping with vaccinations.

In the medium term, I wonder whether vaccination should be compulsory to work in dental practice. There are huge arguments either way for compulsory vaccination and, as dentists, we already have a few vaccinations that are compulsory before we can practice, so I’m sure many of us would be willing to do this for our patients’ and our own safety. However, with this being such a new vaccine, some are concerned about the long-term side effects it may pose.

As well as for ourselves, could it be that we would only treat patients who have had the vaccine? This is very unlikely. However, with all the change surrounding us at the moment, nothing would surprise me.

Then, the long-term impact of a vaccine. There is much hope in the dental community that Covid has accelerated contract reform and the Unit of Dental Activity will be a thing of the past. Currently, achieving the number of UDAs we were before is impossible with social distancing and fallow times. However, if and when a vaccine comes along, will the need for these things be eradicated and could we technically go back to pre-Covid times? I often wonder if life will go back to how it was before, and surely with a vaccine there would eventually be no reason not to. Although, I do hope that I am wrong, and that despite a return to normality, the long-awaited change to NHS dentistry happens and we can work within a better, fairer NHS contract.

The arrival of a vaccine is bound to shift our lives once more. I just hope that things look brighter for everyone within dentistry, and for our patients, as we move into 2021.


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