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Dental practices facing closure due to lack of surgical masks?

Geoff Helisma

On Thursday March 5, the Australian Dental Association (ADA) urged the Australian Government to “step in to prevent widespread dental practice closures”, due to “surgical masks supplies reaching critically low levels”.

“Mask supplies at a large number of dental practices across the nation are expected to run out within four weeks, due to extraordinary demand caused by COVID-19,” the ADA media release stated.

“Without surgical masks, dentists cannot treat patients safely and we run the risk of people going without treatment,” said the ADA’s deputy CEO, Eithne Irving.

“The ADA has been working intently with suppliers to locate new lines of supply, but we now believe that only the federal government can secure a supply of these masks to keep dentists’ doors open.

“The ADA has been advised that dentists cannot access the Government’s stockpile of masks, but that the government is close to securing deals with two Australian manufacturers.”

At the time of the Independent’s editorial deadline on Monday, it had been widely reported that the government has secured an additional 54 million face masks for national medical stockpiles to supply frontline health workers.

Health Minister Greg Hunt was reported to have said, in an AAP media release, that the masks should be arriving by the end of April and would be distributed as required to healthcare workers, including those working in aged care and dentists.

An extra 260,000 masks have already been released from the federal stockpile to primary health networks, dentists and aged care workers.

The Independent contacted several dental practices across the valley, of which one said “no comment”, two were not in a position to comment and one said to talk with the ADA.

Maclean Dental Care responded: “Like all medical health practices and hospitals, dentistry, too, has a national safety and quality health service standard to abide by.

“We treat everyone as if having an infectious disease; that is the high standards [set by] the NSQHS [National Quality and Quality Health Service].

“If we, as a dental practice, cannot get masks and we are unable ensure the safety of our staff and patients we will have to shut our doors.

“At this stage we have plenty masks to keep us going.

“I have also been told by the NSW north coast primary health network they will release more masks to our practice soon.

“At this stage we are not worried.

“We are grateful that the ADA has chased down the government on this issue.”

The Independent spoke with ADA NSW’s president, Dr Kathleen Matthews, on Friday March 6 and asked: What progress has been made since the ADA media release, regarding a federal government response?

Dr Matthews said: “The government is aware of the issues with many frontline health professionals – from GPs to the aged care sector – this is a real problem across all of the frontline medical services, particularly those in primary care.

“They’re a bit different to services in hospitals; so the lines of supply are little bit different – mainly it sits outside of governmental management.

“Most dental businesses are small businesses and there is a limited number of supplies across Australia – about 13 suppliers across the country.

“Only three of those suppliers have masks left and they are rationing those masks.

“It’s Australia-wide and it’s global, so there are multiple levels to this [problem].

“Most dentists obtain their masks the same way we get groceries form the supermarket.

“A lot of mask makers in China have gone offline, so normal supply chains are affected.

“Potentially, [some dental practices] only have a couple of weeks supply in train, which normally does them adequately.

“There’s a risk that perhaps in four weeks, some dental practices will no longer have essential personal protective equipment to maintain safe dental practices.”

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