Dentists! The very word sends a shudder through the heart and teeth of most adults. It used to be about having to visit one, now it’s about not being able to visit one.
For several years the number of dentists offering NHS treatment has dwindled, but even if you have the bucks to pay for private treatment, there is a chronic shortage of them in SW Scotland. Last year, when the last NHS practice in Dumfries decided to go private, and thus dump 4,000 entitled-to-exemption-from-payments people off his books, people started queuing from 4am – over 1,000 of them that day - desperate to get onto his list and pay the £22 registration fee (not to mention annual fees for being allowed to remain on it). Rumours of an increased crime wave as people sought funding for their dentistry needs was never confirmed.
The only alternative has been to go for emergency treatment at the local hospital, but they lock the doors after admitting the first 40 or so people in – typically within 10 minutes after opening them.
This year the region managed to recruit 5 Polish dentists into the area and we were finally placed on the waiting list. Today was a family occasion as we took the kids out of school, dressed up in our finery and all went along for our very first check-up in years. The fact that we had to wait nearly half an hour past our appointment time to be seen, only added to the sense of theatre.
Overheard conversations with the receptionist were not encouraging.
“Your next check up is in January, Mr Wallace. Is that OK?”
“Well, I’m not sure. We might be away in January…”
“The next time I can fit you in would be July if you can’t make that one, Mr Wallace.”
Suitably humbled, Mr Wallace hastily agreed to rearrange his holiday plans.
And that’s the truth of it: in Dumfries & Galloway, you will organise your vacation, your vocation and your children’s schooling around the demands and expectations of the dental practice if you have been fortunate enough to get on their books.
Ms Czaja seemed a pleasant enough person and was quite gentle with the children, although Rogan has a cavity and will need a filling. She seemed a bit cold with me, took a cursory glance around my mouth and told me I was fine and wouldn’t need to be seen again for another year. Maggie needs a scale and polish.
Back out at reception to make the appointments, the earliest Maggie and Rogan can be seen is June 7th next year. Given the extreme advanced notice being given I asked if I should book next year’s check up now. I was told quite firmly that I would be sent my appointment nearer the time, which could easily be beyond 12 months due to the number of people they still have to see between now and then. It was made perfectly clear that as we were NHS and not private then we should have to expect to wait.
She’s right. In the current dentistry climate we cannot complain, we cannot choose to go anywhere else and we cannot expect to be treated as anything other than 2nd class citizens. We just have to be thankful that we now have access to a dentist at all.