Patients who cannot book emergency appointments with their dentists are turning up at GP surgeries instead, a study suggests.
Every year family doctors see 380,000 patients with dental problems, the British Journal of General Practice reports.
But the researchers warned that GP appointments for dental problems are ‘often not an effective or efficient use of resources’.
‘Millions are being wasted, and pressure piled on overstretched GPs’ stated a researcher
The study calls for dentists to do more to ensure patients in pain can be seen quickly to avoid them visiting the GP instead.
One patient, a 68-year-old woman who had a dental abscess, told researchers: ‘They offered me appointments in three different places, but all of them were either 100 miles or more away from us, and I was desperate to get it sorted … so that’s why I went to the GP.’
After surveying 39 patients who had sought GP care for a dental problem, the researchers said that where people turn to depends on a variety of reasons, including the patient’s current symptoms and the relative availability and accessibility of general practice compared with dental care.
Willingness and ability to pay for dental care also appeared to be a factor, the authors found.
Study calls for dentists to do more to ensure patients in pain can be seen quickly
They concluded: ‘Accessible information on where to seek care for dental problems is required. Dental providers should also be encouraged to maintain timely access to urgent care for patients.’ Commenting on the study, Henrik Overgaard-Nielsen of the British Dental Association, said: ‘Dental patients face growing barriers, from higher charges to longer journeys, where even those entitled to free care face the ever-present threat of fines for misclaiming.
‘The result is millions are being wasted, and pressure piled on overstretched GPs who are simply unequipped to help. Ministers need to end the hostile environment many patients face, and ensure all those who need our care can access it.’
Dr Steve Mowle of the Royal College of GPs said: ‘The Health Service is struggling across the board at the moment, and we recognise that patients may struggle to get an NHS dental appointment, just as we know many are finding it difficult to get a GP appointment.
‘While GPs are trained to deal with a multitude of health concerns, we are not trained to treat dental problems. These are best left to the care of a professional dentist or, if required, urgent care services.’
Meanwhile, a different study published in the same journal said that many GP practices provide outdated health education information in their waiting rooms.
The study found that there was a ‘wide variety’ of health educational material available across the 19 practices studied in the Brighton and Hove area.
The authors wrote that such materials ‘appear to be a forgotten and under-resourced corner of health promotion, with little national or local oversight’.