70 per cent of practices are also now operating at less than half their pre-pandemic capacity, according to the British Dental Association.
A BDA survey has revealed that at present 55 per cent of practices across the UK estimate they are able to maintain their financial sustainability for 12 months or less.
The BDA has written open letter to Health Secretary Matt Hancock and the devolved government stating that a package of capital funding now offers the only hope of restoring routine services to millions of patients.
The BDA survey has also revealed that 63 per cent of practices across the UK are reporting less focus on 'routine' dentistry, as urgent and emergency cases receive needed priority. Fallow time (the time gap mandated between procedures to minimise risks of viral transmission) is cited as a significant barrier to increasing capacity –– with 88 per cent of practices reporting it as a major obstacle.
Financial and cash flow problems are cited by 62 per cent of practices and 42 per cent cite patients' unwillingness to attend as another factor.
Most practices (57 per cent) report a lack of funds to invest in new equipment required to reduce their fallow time. The BDA cites industry sources on the estimated costs for mechanical ventilation at required levels of 'air change' being £10,000 for a typical practice. Many practices (52 per cent) claim that they lack the data on air change levels to even establish their compliance with new rules.
The BDA points out that the treasury has lost nearly £400 million from patient contributions increasingly relied upon to fund NHS services in England, with around £50m in revenues now being lost per month. It estimates the government would rapidly recoup costs through increased patient contributions as a result of rising patient volumes.
BDA Chair Eddie Crouch said: "COVID restrictions have left dentists firefighting with huge backlogs, unable to see more than a fraction of our former patient numbers, especially in the NHS.
"We now face a Catch-22. New rules could bring back a dose of normality, but come with a multi-million-pound bill for new kit that practices simply cannot afford. On paper we have a chance to restore services to millions, but without support from Government it won’t translate into better access.
"The clock is ticking on an oral health time bomb, as dentists lose the chance to act on the early signs of decay and oral cancer. Ministers have a choice. Make an investment that would pay for itself and bring millions back through our doors, or leave patients waiting for the care they need."