Dental school in Suffolk could help improve services

Female patient with dentist and assistant in a dental treatment, wearing masks and gloves

A dental school in Suffolk could help improve services - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Early talks for a dental school to be created in Suffolk have started in a bid to tackle the NHS dental crisis in the county.

An East Suffolk Council scrutiny committee in October was told that the two main problems in NHS dentistry were around recruitment and retention of staff and the NHS contracts being unattractive for practices to bid for.

It heard that the lack of a dental school in the region meant that attracting dentists to the county was an issue, with some posts being vacant for two years or more.

At Wednesday morning’s health scrutiny meeting, councillors were told discussions with the University of Suffolk have begun over forming a dental school in Ipswich, while plans for another in Cambridge – possibly launching as soon as September – should also aid local recruitment.

Tom Norfolk, chairman of the Local Dental Network for East Anglia, said: “The University of Suffolk is keen to set up a dental school and we are supporting that as we can. That will be great. There are lots of things around that but it’s very early stages.

“But also we just need to widen the dental workforce – we cannot rely on dentists doing all the work. Just like doctors and GP practices have a wider workforce – they have nurses who do lots of extra bits a doctor doesn’t need to do, dentistry hasn’t moved away from that. Partly it is because of national regulation and partly because it is the way it has always been done.

“We’ll widen the workforce to use increasing numbers of dental nurses, hygienists, therapists, to do different types of dentistry and prioritise prevention.

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“Most dental disease is preventable so we need to look at prevention as a way of addressing those needs and prioritising groups of patients.

“We have written a dental strategy, a new way of working that prioritises patients who need it the most, reduces inequalities, and starts to address the big issues.”

While a dental school is seen as important, it was warned it could take “a number of years to come to fruition” and would then take several years for dentists to come through.

Tom Norfolk, chairman of the Local Dental Network for East Anglia.

Tom Norfolk, chairman of the Local Dental Network for East Anglia. - Credit: SUFFOLK COUNTY COUNCIL

There are also plans to help keep existing dentists in the area with attractive upskilling and specialism opportunities, while a regional ‘virtual academy’ is in the pipeline to develop staff.

It could mean in future that routine check-ups could be carried out by upskilled dental nurses so dentists are able to prioritise treatment work.