Dentures are probably not one of the things given a lot of priority by healthcare staff when patients end up in hospital for routine or more serious treatments.
However, if a patient's dentures get lost during their hospital stay, the repercussions for both the patient and the NHS Trust are quite shocking.
Last year, we extrapolated some numbers from a local study published in the BDJ to get a sense of the figures that might be involved in this strange, but true phenomenon, of disappearing dentures.
We worked out that around 9,500 dentures might have gotten 'lost' in NHS hospitals across England last year.
And more shockingly, that this could've cost around £1million to the NHS. Quite a blow for increasingly squeezed NHS budget.
For patients, this is no small matter. Losing your dentures can have a profound impact on well-being, self-respect and dignity. Without them you cannot talk, eat properly, or smile – all basic things that severely impact on a patient's quality of life, as well as their health and recovery.
And waiting for a new set, might take weeks, or months.
Dentures often end up getting mistakenly thrown away. Some patients are embarrassed to say they have dentures and hide them, sometimes wrapping them in paper tissue, then accidently leaving them on a bedside cabinet or meal tray, and staff accidently dispose of them. Some squirrel them away under their pillow and when beds get changed are forgotten about and misplaced.
Sometimes they are lost in transit between wards, or theatre, or fall out after a patient has vomited and get left behind in the flurry.
There are better ways of dealing with this problem, both in terms of health and finance.
We applaud the work of the Mouth Care Matters campaign in highlighting this issue to primary care staff in hospitals with the 'Denture Sunflower' campaign.
The idea is that if there is a dental sunflower sticker at a patient's bedside, then staff can be vigilant and look out for the dentures, especially when cleaning up after meals, or not throwing things away wrapped in tissues, or when making beds.
I'd encourage all dentists working in hospitals to help share and promote the denture sunflower campaign to colleagues and other staff, as this simple act could really help to save money and make life a lot more comfortable for a huge number of patients.
Peter Dyer, Chair
Central Committe for Hospital Dental Services
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