Pilot service improves access to urgent dental care

Published: 15 February 2024

Local patients with severe tooth pain now have improved access to urgent dental appointments thanks to a service being piloted by Hertfordshire and West Essex Integrated Care Board (ICB).

The appointments, which are available every day of the year, are being offered to local patients who contact NHS111 with an urgent dental problem and are assessed as needing immediate treatment.

The ICB has contracted with four dental practices in Hemel Hempstead, Watford, Hitchin and Waltham Abbey to provide additional urgent appointments over and above their provision for registered patients. These extra appointments are open to all patients whether or not they have a regular dentist.

The pilot scheme includes additional weekend and bank holiday appointments in the Hertfordshire out-of-hours dental service which has bases in Stevenage and Rickmansworth. This service, which is open to patients across Hertfordshire and west Essex, provides weekday evening appointments too.

Altogether the pilot service is providing around 190 additional urgent dental appointments a week for patients across Hertfordshire and west Essex.

Accessing the enhanced service

Once the NHS111 service has identified that a patient needs urgent dental treatment they can book them into the nearest available appointment at one of the participating dentists or the Hertfordshire out-of-hours service. This appointment is usually on the same day but sometimes it may be the next day.

As part of the enhanced service dentists can also book patients into a follow-up appointment if, when providing the urgent treatment, they identify another dental issue that needs further attention. This allows dentists to stabilise a patient’s oral health and prevent further problems for them down the line.

Equal access

The new service aims to provide more equal access to urgent dental care for patients across Hertfordshire and west Essex. The four practices providing the enhanced service are in accessible town centre locations with good public transport links and good parking onsite or nearby.

Avni Shah, Director of Primary Care for Hertfordshire and West Essex ICB says, “Having healthy teeth and gums health is an important part of our health and wellbeing. Since the ICB took on responsibility for providing dental services last April, increasing access to dental care for local patients has been a priority action in our primary care delivery plan. We especially want to make sure that patients who need urgent help get the treatment they need to get their oral health back on track.

“We know that patients who experience disadvantage are less likely to have a regular dentist to help them keep on top of their oral health which puts them at a higher risk of developing serious problems. We hope that this new service will go some way to tackling these health inequalities, which is a priority for the integrated care board. As an added benefit we hope that helping people get the right care for their urgent dental needs will take pressure off other ‘go to’ services such as hospital urgent treatment centres, emergency departments or GP practices.

“We’re also working with dental practices to make sure they have capacity to manage routine dental care for their patients and we’re developing specialist dental services too. We’re also working with county council public health services to promote good dental hygiene such as regular toothbrushing and raising awareness of risk factors such as sugary food and drinks, smoking and alcohol to help prevent tooth decay and gum disease.”

Early feedback from both NHS111 and dental practices providing the enhanced service has been very positive. Dentists are particularly welcoming the opportunity to provide follow up appointments to patients to help improve their oral health.

The pilot will run until June this year. The ICB will be evaluating its success to see how best to develop future services.