Dentists all over the country are stepping up in response to the COVID-19 outbreak to support their patients, communities and frontline healthcare staff.
Supporting those on the frontline
It's not often you see a dentist giving out cake, but Harshini Pindolia is now doing just that on a nightly basis as part of her campaign to help ambulance workers, nurses and doctors during COVID-19. After work, she and a group of volunteers deliver essentials to frontline workers to local hospitals in northwest London. "Even small things can make a big difference," she tells us, "so we're delivering warm meals during the night shift and bags of groceries for staff to take home after a day shift. We're giving out toiletries such as moisturiser for dry, often-washed hands and bringing in cake and cereal bars to help keep everyone going."
A&E doctor at Northwick Park Hospital, London is happy to see hot meals and freshly baked cake.
Harshini works in Guy's Hospital in Oral Surgery and Acute Dental Care. As part of her day-job, she's dealing with increased numbers of patients in pain, coming in distressed and in desperate need of urgent care. "It's a stressful situation" she says, "I'm also not able to see my family, which is hard. I know my parents are worried about me going into hospital right now, but that they're also very proud of the work I'm doing."
She hopes that her food drives will inspire dentists all over the country to do what they can for their communities. "The way people's tired faces light up with the biggest smile when they see you, it makes it all worth it after a hard day."
A&E nurse and paramedic welcome another food delivery to Northwick Park Hospital, London.
"I hope that all dentists are looking to support in whatever way they can" BDA President, Roz Mc Mullan, has said.
Calling from the Altnagelvin hospital in Northern Ireland, she explained how she is now working to support their doctors' hub. "My role is linking with the medical teams and working to support staff welfare. Many doctors are now working out of their normal scope of practice and under very stressful conditions." She's happy to provide whatever help she can at this difficult time. "We know it will get worse before it gets better," she says, "but I am so humbled and inspired by the dedication of everyone here."
Reaching out to the elderly and vulnerable
These days very few people know their GP, but most people know their dentist. This places dentists in a unique position to be able to reach out and support their most vulnerable patients. This is particularly important for the elderly who are hardest hit by the virus and the isolation required to stop its spread.
"I'm calling as many of my elderly patients as I can, to check that they are alright."
Penny Harris, a dentist in Ealing, London, has described how she now starts every day with a new kind of patient list. "I've started with the As and am calling as many of my elderly patients as I can, to check that they are alright."
Dentists often underestimate the important role they play in their communities. However, Penny believes that with their community networks and knowledge, dentists can provide essential leadership and support.
"In the last week, I've taken a patient with cancer to a hospital appointment, explained to an elderly patient how to use online banking and helped a disabled patient to get the correct prescription from the opticians. Obviously, none of this is dentistry. But I want to support my patients and right now I'm happy to help take the load off other parts of the NHS."
Signing up for redeployment
Dentists all over the country are also signing up to work in the Urgent Care Clinics which are being set up to provide dentistry in safe conditions during the pandemic. Of course, not everyone is able to sign up for redeployment – either because they are part of a vulnerable group or because a dependant is. However, many are ready and willing to help. In Northern Ireland, for example, four times the number of dentists required to work in the new urgent care centres volunteered in the first week.
We all need some hope and good news right now. Please share these examples of the fantastic work being done by dentists all over the country to support the response. Take inspiration from them and be proud of the work that you and your colleagues are doing to support patients, communities and frontline staff. And consider donating to support Harshini's efforts. At this time of national crisis, we're stronger together.