It will surely win the price for the most surreal conversation I had during the lockdown – and if you live with two young children, there is tough competition. I phoned an emergency dentist who was trying to get urgent treatment for my five-year-old son Ted, who was in pain with a decaying molar tooth after a filling had come off.
"We can only be extracted under local anesthetic," said the local hospital dentist when I finally got through. In other words, they wouldn't bother to judge him, and it was up to me – with no dental knowledge – to decide if it was bad enough to justify my child's trauma of ripping out his back tooth.
There was a different course of action, she continued hesitantly.
Great, I'm all ears. Did I have Babybel cheese? I paused as my brain raced through the contents of the fridge, trying to figure out how the cheese I buy for my toddler might help.
"I know, I know, but listen to me," she said. The red wax crate of a Babybel can be used to make your own filling when "cut, rolled into a ball, mixed with saliva and fixed in the hole," she explained.
I was amazed. Even if I could reach this level of dentistry, we are talking about a child in excruciating pain who would surely take it out or maybe even swallow it.
Still in pain: Kate with son Ted, five, who was plagued by toothache
Incredibly, I wrote to a friend who was trying to calm my anger and replied that this gave the photographer's maxim a new meaning: "Say cheese!"
But I'm struggling to see the funny side. Is this the state of Covid dentistry? Pull it out or do it yourself? It is medieval.
Dentists – even private practices – had to close two months ago when the lock started, and the mere fact that I even had a dentist on the phone was a miracle.
It was the result of a dozen calls to our usual clinic, voicemails and texts to an emergency cell phone number, and calls to NHS 111 staff who sent me back to first place telling me to call my usual clinic. I tried my general practice and finally posted a desperate message on a local Facebook forum. Finally, the emergency department of a local hospital called back.
My son's case started last year when he was filled to my horror. I took it personally because I thought I was good at banning sugary snacks from an early age. A friendly dentist said that raisins – or what he called "raisins", were most likely to blame. But during the lockdown, the filling had come loose and inflicted pain, and I had not inappropriately hoped that a dentist could take a look. However, dentistry in England is currently largely limited to telephone consultations and the "three aces" – antibiotics, analgesics and advice.
The Ministry of Health claims to have set up more than 500 urgent dental care centers, but the location of these locations is a mystery and treatment is mainly limited to "local anesthetic extraction". The reason for this is to avoid "aerosol generating processes", ie any treatment that is likely to spray spittle or blood.
With such a scarce supply, desperate people take matters into their own hands.
"I've heard a large number of stories from people who have pulled out a pair of pliers to do it themselves because they have to wait so long." It's barbaric, ”says Eddie Crouch, vice chair of the British Dental Association.
James Goolnik, a dentist in the City of London, has stories of suffering that will make you hold your face.
"People tell me that they used knives and nail files and tried to glue crowns back with super glue but got them the wrong way around," he says.
"Then there are some who have ulcers and have no idea if they have cancer. Unless it is a life-threatening infection, the emergency centers will not see them. It is not acceptable. As dentists, we are frustrated because we want to help, but we have been held back. We have PPE and can work. We have been dealing with HIV risk and many other viruses for years. "
Angela Wood's case highlights the insanity of the situation. The 49-year-old Sheffield housewife had excruciating toothache at the beginning of the closure and was informed by an emergency dentist that a root canal would be performed and a new crown would be placed under normal circumstances. Now, however, they would only take it out.
She reluctantly agreed, but when the pain returned to the same side of her face two weeks later, she went back.
"They said we can only take out the tooth next to it. I couldn't believe what I heard. Where does it end Do we keep taking our teeth out until we find the problem? “Ms. Wood now spends most of her days on her computer after assembling an exceptional online community of people with similarly harrowing stories. She leads a breakaway alliance of patients who help each other access dentists.
"Today we're trying to help a woman in Devon find treatment," said Anthony Foster, 39, who joined Ms. Wood's campaign. The Essex financial service provider had to struggle to save one of his front teeth after a dentist at an emergency center told him the only way to have it removed was, and no, he would not get a replacement. "It's a belief that it's such a mess." Someone will die of it, ”he says. These fears are shared by Dr. Philip Lewis, President of the Mouth Cancer Foundation.
Dentists are trained to recognize oral cancer, and they spot around 24 cases in the UK daily – often by accident during routine checkups. With the clinics closed for nine weeks, hundreds of cases are undiagnosed, not to mention a huge backlog when the clinics finally reopen. "Even with the reopening of the general dental office, it is likely that it will take a considerable amount of time for a comprehensive service to become generally available," says Dr. Lewis. "Unfortunately, many cases of head and neck cancer could go undetected."
In the picture: Babybel cheese, archive picture, the wax from which Kate Mansey was suggested by a dentist to make a temporary filling from it
How does Britain compare to the rest of the world?
Ireland reopened its dentists and Norway opened dentists a month ago. Germany has indicated that dentists have a low risk of transmission of the infection, while 42 out of 50 states in America have dentists again.
There are large discrepancies even within the UK, with England performing the worst.
"It's a zip code lottery if there ever was one," says Eddie Crouch. "I spoke to colleagues in Gloucester and they only had one emergency center and they see seven patients a day for the whole county, which is pathetic."
“Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales have more powers to make decisions quickly while the Chief Dental Officer in England is an NHS England employee, so decision-making is as slow as possible.
"When it's all over, it's time to examine how the decision-making process in England was so snail."
However, it is not clear that there will be much relief even after the suspension ends.
Financially, many clinics are in dire straits and dentists are furious that they have not been given the full relief for business rates that bookmakers, for example, have been granted. Even NHS practices that rely on private work to supplement their income suffer.
This means that many more of us may be offering DIY dentistry long after the coronavirus was wiped out. I ordered a DIY dental kit online. I will soon stop using Babybel cheese wax.