Dental practices in the UK are facing a desperate shortage of masks following coronavirus due to supply problems from China.
The British Dental Association (BDA) has said that some larger clinics in the UK will finish the masks by the middle of next week and will not be able to treat patients safely according to current regulations.
A spokesman for the BDA said that over 50% of the face masks used by dentists and other health professionals in the United Kingdom are produced in China.
Exports from Chinese producers have “substantially ceased” due to the virus outbreak.
British suppliers are limiting the amount that can be ordered, with some suppliers out of print and others tripling their prices, the spokesman added.
Some dentists and health professionals also panicked as they anticipate a shortage, while the BDA said it had been “bombed” with the calls.
The BDA has warned that UK suppliers have issued general restrictions that dental practices cannot order more than two boxes of masks per day – 100 masks in total.
The masks are used by dentists and dental nurses and are also used for sterilizing equipment.
A single surgery in a typical NHS practice, which sees around 28 patients per day, is estimated to go through five boxes of masks per week.
They represent about a fifth of all practices in the UK.
But it is likely that the practices of the national two-chair health system will completely exhaust their endowment and the wider practices will not have enough to continue opening them.
Under current guidance, all dental technicians operating in England are required to wear personal protective equipment including disposable masks, clinical gloves, disposable aprons and eye protection.
BDA president Mick Armstrong said, “Dentists have been suffering from panic buying, clumsy rationing, and naked profits in recent weeks.
“Unfortunately, a” one-size-fits-all “approach by suppliers is leaving many broader practices with few options.
“Our constant concern is the safety of our patients, who are facing an imminent discontinuation of their care.
“Unless we see a rapid increase in supply, dentists without masks will have no choice but to drill.”
The BDA said similar problems are occurring in New Zealand, Australia and Canada.
A message from the Australian Dental Association to the BDA said: “Here in Australia, we could potentially face a mask shortage situation since all of our suppliers depend heavily on Chinese manufacturers.”
He asked what measures can be taken to ensure a continuous supply and what the BDA intends to do in the event of the exhaustion of the masks.