Dr Caroline Jackson, clinical director of the Hartlepool Dental & Implant Centre, gives her view on how dental practices are adapting while reopening under new social distancing measures.

When the Prime Minister announced that dental practices could reopen on Monday, June 8, he took my whole profession by surprise.

We found out at exactly the same time as the public, when the little banner underneath Boris Johnson rolled across the TV screen.

Since we were ordered by the Chief Dental Officer for England to stop seeing and treating patients on March 23, my practice has been providing telephone advice to patients.

Every day a dentist has been into our practice to triage patients over the phone to issue advice, analgesics and antibiotics.

Urgent dental care hubs have been set up in the area, and dentists can refer patients requiring urgent treatment to these hubs, where patients will be treated using the necessary enhanced Personal Protective Equipment (PPE).

It’s not what any of us are used to, but the system worked.

The day before the Prime Minister’s announcement, we received a letter from the Chief Dental Officer for England about the ongoing arrangements; it gave no indication that the reopening of dental practices would be happening imminently.

Only a matter of weeks ago practices were asked to give their remaining PPE away to frontline facilities such as hospitals and care homes. Dental practices have to buy their own PPE, it is not provided by the NHS. Despite practices being hit financially from the enforced closure, many owners like myself happily donated all of their remaining PPE.

At this point we did not restock as we did not want to stockpile PPE potentially for months when the need was present elsewhere. We thought that the care hubs would continue for the foreseeable future. New procedures would need to be developed and implemented to see patients again in practices, so surely we would be given adequate notice about any reopening: we were only given six working days notice.

Many practices will not have receive their delivery of specialist PPE in time reopening.

Like many dentists, I love my job. I’ve wanted to be a dentist since I was five-years-old. I enjoy treating patients, chatting with them and getting to know them.

For the time being visiting the dentist is going to be a little different.

We have to deliver dentistry while maintaining social distancing, where possible. When you visit my practice you will be asked to wait outside until the time of your appointment.

A nurse will take your temperature and invite you in and you will be asked to wash your hands and then be taken into the surgery where your dentist and nurse will be waiting for you.

The specialist PPE we will need to wear may make us look slightly different to normal.

We are all highly trained in cross infection control, and it forms a huge part of our normal working life. We have worked extensively behind the scenes to adapt our working patterns to ensure that in the face of this virus you can rest assured that you are safe in our hands.

However, this also means that due to new cross infection protocols not all of our surgeries can be open and we will be seeing a vastly reduced number of patients per day.

We have been waiting for confirmation from the chief dental officer about which treatments and procedures we are allowed to offer and we expected initially we will be asked to avoid any non-urgent treatment.

It is likely that your practice will be seeing urgent cases to start with, followed by patients who have treatment outstanding and lastly routine check-ups.

This is an unprecedented time for all of us and whilst we are looking forward to welcoming you back into our practices, we would ask for your patience and understanding whilst we implement our new operating procedures.