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Private dentist charges to rise as PPE costs passed to customers

Written by: Emma Lunn
Dental patients could face extra costs as dentists pass on the cost of Covid-compliant personal protective equipment (PPE) used in appointments.

The British Dental Association (BDA) has warned that dentists could be forced to increase the fees they charge patients to meet the extra safety and hygiene measures needed to operate safely during the coronavirus pandemic.

Some patients have taken to internet forums to complain about the price hike – some have been quoted surcharges of up to £7 per appointment. But increased overheads mean some dentists will be upping prices by much more.

The price hike will only affect private patients as NHS work is carried out for a fixed price which hasn’t changed. Dentists carrying out private work are free to set their own price structures.

Increased PPE costs

According to the BDA, PPE shortages – and the need for kit not previously required – means the cost of treating each patient has increased by up to 6,000% due to coronavirus.

The BDA says costs for PPE per patient appointment were about 35 to 45 pence pre-pandemic, but could now stand at £20 to 30 depending on exact PPE requirements and usage.

The professional body for dentists also said that most practices are currently operating at less than 25% of pre-pandemic capacity.

This is partly due to the need for a “fallow period” between surgeries, when a treatment room is not used for up to an hour, to minimise the risk of viral transmission.

Dentists also need to pre-screen patients for coronavirus symptoms and take their temperature before allowing them in the dental practice – this has doubled the amount of time needed for simple procedures.

Mick Armstrong, BDA chair, says: “The amount a private dentist charges a patient will always vary from practice to practice and will of course depend on the treatment provided. For NHS treatment, patient charges are fixed across England.

“The costs of providing dental treatment have risen astronomically, as practices adopt additional safety measures, including use of full PPE for many procedures. The result is some private dentists have little choice other than to pass on some costs to patients.

“Facing fewer patients and higher costs many practices now fear for their futures. A service millions of patients depends on needs this government to throw it a lifeline.”

Price increases

One dental practice that has been forced to charge customers more is Perfect Smile Spa in Essex. The practice has increased its pricing based on the investment needed for PPE equipment for different treatments.

These can be divided into aerosol generating procedures (AGP), for which there is a £39 surcharge, and non-AGP treatments for which the surcharge is £9.

An AGP is a dental treatment where water from instruments, working at high speeds in your mouth, combines to produce a spray. This is controlled by the dental nurse with the suction equipment.

Non-AGPs are things such as check-ups and simple reviews.

Dr Jas Sagoo of Perfect Smile Spa says: “The frank shortage of PPE worldwide and the fact that PPE was reserved only for the NHS hospitals in England since March has led to PPE needed for dentistry being very hard to source and resulted in a huge increase in price.

“Some PPE costs have increased 10 times and new PPE guidelines for certain procedures mean that private dentists have to charge a levy on PPE to help cover the costs.

“AGP are procedures such as drilling/polishing/ultrasonic scaling. Current guidelines mean that special PPE is required for these treatments, which was never needed in dentistry before. Special respirator masks are required such as FFP2/3 and these masks must be fit tested by a trained and insured fit tester for each dental staff member. Dental staff also must completely gown-up, wear face shields, head and shoe covers in addition to standard PPE. This has increased the cost of AGP PPE exponentially.”

Private dentists say they have not received any Government help to fund the cost of following new guidelines.

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