Coronavirus: Dentists running out of face masks warn surgeries could close

Sophie Gallagher
Getty Images

Dentists in the UK say they are facing potential closure as they experience a shortage of face masks due to coronavirus.

The British Dental Association (BDA) say some clinics will run out of face masks by the middle of next week and because of safety rules will no longer be able to treat patients.

Under current guidelines all dental professionals operating in England have to wear disposable face masks, clinical gloves, disposable aprons and eye protection when working.

The shortage is because of a supply issue; a spokesperson for the BDA said 50 per cent of masks used by dentists come from China where production has all but ceased.

This is since the coronavirus outbreak which has now killed 1,367 people and infected more than 60,000 people worldwide.

As a result of the production problems, the BDA said UK suppliers are restricting the number of face masks that can be ordered by any one clinic to two boxes (100 masks) per day. They claim they are also increasing their prices.

BDA chairman Mick Armstrong said: “In recent weeks dentists have been hit by panic-buying, clumsy rationing and naked profiteering.”

There has also been panic buying, further exacerbating the problem, the organisation says.

The BDA said it had been “bombarded” with calls from worried medical professionals particularly those from larger practices who cannot buy enough masks to meet demand.

The BDA estimates that a single surgery in a typical NHS practice, seeing around 28 patients per day, will be getting through five boxes of masks a week. They account for about a fifth of all practices in the UK.

But “two-chair” NHS practices are likely to use up their allocation completely, and larger practices will not have enough to continue opening.

“Sadly a ‘one size fits all’ approach from suppliers is leaving many larger practices with few options,” says Armstrong. “Unless we see a rapid increase in supply, dentists without face masks will have little choice but to down drills.”

The BDA said similar issues are being seen in New Zealand, Australia and Canada.

A message from the Australian Dental Association to the BDA said: “Here in Australia, we are potentially going to be facing a situation of mask shortages as our suppliers all rely heavily on Chinese manufacturers.”

Coronavirus has not only impacted production of face masks but has also seen increased demand from the general population, who believe the masks can protect against the virus.

But Dr Jake Dunning, head of emerging infections and zoonoses [infectious disease spread between humans and animals] at Public Health England, told The Independent that there is “very little evidence of a widespread benefit” in members of the public wearing masks.

Dr Dunning explains there are a number of reasons why they aren’t effective. “Face masks must be worn correctly, changed frequently, removed properly, disposed of safely and used in combination with good universal hygiene behaviour in order for them to be effective.”

Watch the latest videos from Yahoo UK