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Nine out of ten GPs feel ‘under pressure’ from patients with dental complaints

Nine out of ten GPs feel they are being put under undue pressure by patients presenting with oral health issues, when they could be seeing a dentist, a survey has found.

The survey of more than 1,000 GPs - commissioned by the Association of Dental Groups (ADG), the professional body representing private and corporate dental practices - found that 87% of were feeling under pressure by patients with oral health problems, and 96% felt more should be done educate the public on when they should be seeking a dental specialist.

The study has been released to coincide with Mouth Cancer Action Month and revealed that 7,500 cases of mouth cancer are diagnosed every year, with the rise particularly steep in young people and women.

David Worskett, chair of the ADG, said he recognised that GPs are already under huge pressures and argued these results show it is important to ensure that patients know where to go for dental issues.

He added: ‘With mouth cancer rates rising to over 7,500 new cases every year, and early detection vital, it is more important than ever that patients get the right care quickly.’

‘People often think that dentists are focus purely on teeth and gums, but actually, they are specialists in most aspects of oral health and we often find GPs refer patients back to their dentist if there is any treatment required.’

‘The message is, if you have any concerns about oral health related issues, be it a toothache or a long-term ulcer, you should be visiting your dentist rather than your GP. This will ensure patients are getting the best possible care, and also relieving pressure on the NHS, which we know is already overstretched.’

Dr Robert Morley, chair of Birmingham LMC, agreed there were many cases where GPs were only able to refer patients to a dentist but cautioned that the issue wasn’t ‘black and white’.

He told Pulse: ‘Although GPs are GPs and are not trained to deal its dental problems, there will be inevitable incidences where oral health problems will present from some patients and in some cases it will be more appropriate to say “please go and see your dentist”, but in other cases obviously it may be something that GPs is the best party to deal with and then refer on. But it’s a grey area, it’s not black and white.’

‘If it’s obviously a dental problem, rather than a more general medical problem, then a dentist is your more appropriate route. But clearly there will be circumstances where it’s not surprising that the patient chooses to go to their GP and obviously more systemic problems can present with oral symptoms anyway.’

‘I can understand why there’s some disquiet over this, but equally it’s important that general practice does maintain its holistic view of the patients health.’