Comments, EdgeNotes, In Focus

Dentists, the NHS, and Covid

In April, one of my tooth fillings came out. When I called the dentist, they explained there were no appointments, because of the pandemic.


Steve Latham


I didn’t blame them. Dentists are always vulnerable to respiratory diseases. So, while bending over patients’ gaping mouths, Covid puts them especially at risk.

I was told to take painkillers, and contact them if I couldn’t cope. As it happened, I was fine. But I learned  that 19 million fewer dental treatments were offered during the crisis.

However, this illustrates the impact Coronavirus has had on UK health services. For example, 2.5 million people have not been screened, tested or treated for cancer.

Protection of staff, redirection of resources, and administrative overload, have caused delays for all medical departments.

The number of deaths from Covid also don’t tell everything. There are also deaths, from other causes, due to the effect of the virus on the NHS.

The total number, combining both Covid and other-related deaths, clinically termed ‘excess mortality’, has been over 56, 000.

My tooth was OK, but now it seems my teeth are crumbling. One broke off, while I was flossing – which I’m supposed to do to protect my teeth!

And another snapped off, while eating a sandwich, with my daughter at a (socially distanced) assignation in a local park!

Perhaps it’s old age? Or maybe it’s due to all that sugar I’ve eaten, usually in the form of chocolate, through my whole life?

An icebreaker exercise I like to suggest, when I’m leading small group discussions, is: what was your favourite food when you were a child?

It helps loosen people up, for when the session actually kicks off. My answer is easy: chocolate porridge!

When I was a kid, I was so fussy about eating, that the only way my mum could get me to eat porridge for breakfast, was to add cocoa powder and (lots of) sugar!

This set a pattern for the following decades, and only gradually now am I weaning myself off the sweet stuff.

It’s often said that if sugar was discovered today, it would be banned, both because of its effect on our health, and its addictive power.

It is also a legacy of our imperial history, cultivated by slaves in the Caribbean. Likewise for cocoa: grown in Ghana, but processed lucratively here in Blighty.

This combination of sugar and chocolate has proved a dangerous mix, producing the distinctive diseases of affluence: tooth decay, heart disease, and obesity.

When I heard the cost of my dental treatment I was shocked. But I realise that, although I don’t get free treatment because I’m working, it is still subsidised.

Previously, the dentist referred me to a private clinic, because they had a better microscope. The cost there was three-times as much; which I wouldn’t have to pay, if the NHS was properly funded.

Many hope Covid-19 will prompt a rethink of how we support our health and welfare services. How likely is that, really?

(Photos: Pixabay)

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