Almost 400,000 people consult GPs because of dental problems each year, as patients struggle with fast access to dentistry.
A study found many of these patients would be better treated by dental practitioners, with antibiotics often over-prescribed in general practice dental consultations.
According to the paper, patients are ‘confused’ about the roles of dentists and GPs, but generally found the GP appointment system ‘easier to negotiate’.
Many of the 380,000 patients inappropriately seeing a GP over a dentist also had previous negative experience of dentistry – or had dental phobias – while others were deterred by the cost of dental care.
In response to findings, the Cardiff-based researchers recommended that dentists should ensure patients can have rapid consultations without lengthy waits.
It also said GPs could ‘signpost’ patients, better explaining their role to patients, and give advice on emergency dental services.
The paper, published in the British Journal of General Practice said: ‘Effective interventions will need to break down the barriers preventing access to dental care.
‘Accessible public-facing information on where to seek care for dental problems is required, and general practice teams should be able to signpost patients who present with dental problems, if appropriate.
‘Dental providers should also be encouraged to maintain timely access to urgent care for their patients.’
A previous analysis from 2016, carried out by the British Dental Association, showed GPs were dealing with 600,000 dental patients a year.
RCGP honorary treasurer Dr Steve Mowle said it was ‘essential’ for patients to understand where to turn with dental problems in order to ‘ensure scant NHS resources are used most effectively’.
He added: ‘While GPs are trained to deal with a multitude of health concerns, we are not trained to treat dental problems – these are best left to the care of a professional dentist or, if required, urgent care services.
‘With GPs already seeing more than a million patients in the UK every day, and increasing number of patients waiting more than a week to see a GP, seeing patients with dental problems isn’t the best use of our time, and anyone who does try to book an appointment for a dental problem will most likely be referred to an appropriate alternative.’