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Thousands seeing GP for dental problems

23 October 2018

People in waiting room

Lack of awareness of the full services that dentists offer and an expectation of long waiting times for appointments are among the reasons that 380,000 people in the UK visited their doctor with a dental problem last year, needlessly adding to GP appointment waiting times.

A new study, by Cardiff University and Cardiff and Vale University Health Board, which interviewed adults across the UK, found several common reasons why people make GP appointments instead of seeing a dentist. These included:

  • dissatisfaction with previous dental care
  • a lack of knowledge on how to find a dentist
  • previous bad experiences of dental treatment
  • concerns about how much dental treatment might cost
  • worries about waiting times
  • And a lack of knowledge that dentists deal with problems of the gums or other soft tissues of the mouth

Dr Anwen Cope, from Cardiff University’s School of Dentistry, said: “It is often assumed that patients visit their doctor when experiencing a dental problem because they can’t find a dentist. Whilst this is true for some patients, it’s not the whole picture. Our research revealed various reasons patients may go to the doctor including not knowing who best to see or finding it easier or more convenient to go to the GP.

We would always encourage patients to see a dentist, rather than a doctor, if they have a problem with their teeth, gums, or the soft tissues of their mouth. Doctors do not have the training or equipment to diagnose and treat dental problems. As a result, patients who see a doctor with a dental problem may not be getting the best type of care for their condition.

Dr Anwen Cope Senior Clincial Lecturer and Honorary Consultant in Dental Public Health

The findings of the study suggest there is a need to overcome barriers preventing access to dental care, and to increase access to urgent dental care services for patients without a regular dental care provider.

Dr Anwen Cope added: “Just as there is no single reason patients consult GPs with dental problems, there is no single solution to ensure they use a dental practitioner instead. However, our research suggests that maintaining timely access to urgent care for patients and providing accessible and reliable patient-facing information about where to seek care for common oral conditions, together with the costs associated, would be a good start.”

The study ‘Patients’ reasons for consulting a GP when experiencing a dental problem: a qualitative study’ is published in the British Journal of General Practice and was funded by the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow.

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