The study comes as Britain is gripped by a dental crisis, which has meant charities, normally assisting third world countries, have been forced to step in and help British patients as dentists are too busy to treat them.
Patients with dental pain are overdosing on painkillers because they are unable to access professional treatment, claims a new report. The two-year study found that 38 per cent of emergency admissions for paracetamol overdose were a direct result of dental pain.
Paracetamol overdosing can occur after taking too much paracetamol over a number of hours or days, leading to liver failure, which may be fatal. Researchers looked at 436 patients who presented at Nottingham’s Queen’ Medical Centre A&E from May 2014 to April 2016 with accidental paracetamol overdose.
Self-medicating: patients unable to access dental services in an emergency are accidentally overdosing on paracetamol in an attempt to relieve pain, caused by a shortfall of NHS dentists
Some 164 of these admissions were patients with toothache, of which over half had contacted their dentist beforehand and 62 per cent required medical admission.
Henrik Overgaard-Nielsen, the British Dental Association’s chairman of general dental practice told The Times that ‘lives are at risk’.
He explained: ‘Failure to invest in both routine and emergency dental care is jeopardising appropriate diagnosis and treatment, and heaping needless pressure across the NHS.’
The authors of the study, published in the British Dental Journal, wrote that dental pain contributes to a ‘significant’ number of paracetamol overdose A&E admissions, which highlights ‘a lack of public awareness surrounding safe self-medication and inadequate access to timely emergency dental care’
What is the UK dental crisis?
- Last year a BBC study found that 48 per cent of the 2,500 dental practices listed on the NHS choices website were not accepting new patients
- There were reports of people pulling out their own teeth as they were unable to see a dentist
- The British Dental Association (BDA) found that half of newly qualified and young (under 35) dentists were planning to leave the NHS in five years
- According to the BDA, these figures reflect an ’emerging crisis’ in the UK dental sector
- Third world charity Dentaid has begun operating in the UK to provide free dental care to low-income families in West Yorkshire
- The BDA reports that 68% of NHS dental practices in England were struggling to fill vacancies
- This may be due to falling pay and low job satisfaction
Study co-author and consultant Andrew Sidebottom told the BBC that emergency cover is often ‘overbooked’, making treatment difficult, as well as patients being afraid to see a dentist.
The maximum safe dose of paracetamol for adults is eight 500mg tablets spread out over 24 hours. The usual dose is one or two 500mg tablets at a time, with a four to six hour break between doses. An investigation by The Times in November found millions of Brits were unable to access their local NHS dentist, as they were not accepting new patients.
Dentists in the UK described being so inundated with targets and admin that they did not have time to focus on the dental health of their patients, resulting in a ‘national disaster’. More than 400 dentists signed a letter which said the system is ‘under-resourced and focused more upon experimental targets and tick boxes than patients’ and was sent to The Telegraph.
Dentaid, a charity which works across parts of Africa, Asia and Central America, set up its first UK-based scheme in West Yorkshire two years ago, providing low-income patients with free care. One in six areas of the UK have no dentists left taking new patients, previous research has shown.
NHS dentistry is also facing a recruitment crisis, with over two thirds of practices struggling to fill vacancies, according to the British Dental Association.
How can I access emergency dental care?
- If you are registered to a dental practice, call up to see if they offer emergency appointments
- If you don’t have a dentist, you can find one using NHS 111
- You can also look up urgent care services to find one that provides dental care
- For out-of-hours access, call NHS 111 to find your nearest out-of-hours dental service
- An urgent dental treatment will cost £21.60 – if you are entitled to free NHS dental care you should be able to claim this back, but make sure to keep hold of all receipts
- Only go to A&E in extreme circumstances, such as severe pain, heavy bleeding or injuries to the face, mouth and teeth