Dentists in Northern Ireland have asked Stormont for an urgent financial support package, or practices will close.
The pandemic has placed severe restrictions on how dentists can operate.
Routine face-to-face appointments were halted at the start of lockdown, as they are aerosol-generating, which means they release airborne particles which can result in the spread of infection.
In a letter to Arlene Foster and Michelle O’Neill, Richard Graham of the British Dental Association said many dentists “are at their wits end”.
“The financial impact is of an unparalleled scale, and unlike other sectors, the prospect of significant disruption to the volume and type of dentistry that can be carried out looks set to be a feature for the foreseeable future,” wrote Mr Graham, who is chair of the NI Dental Practice Committee.
“The impact on dental earnings is such that revenue is not even coming close to covering outgoings.
“We are looking at a failure of dental businesses, and associated job losses on a Northern Ireland-wide scale.”
He wrote that despite repeated efforts to “highlight the severe financial plight” facing dentists with the Health and Economy Ministers “the response has been wholly unsatisfactory”.
“Regrettably, despite repeated efforts to highlight the severe financial plight facing mixed/private-oriented dental practices in particular to the Economy Minister, and also having raised these issues directly with the Health Minister, there has been no additional help forthcoming from those Government Departments to address loss of private earnings,” Mr Graham wrote.
“Since March, we have written three times to the Economy Minister, and engaged with the Economy Committee. The response from the Department is wholly deficient, and fails to recognise the mixed economy of dental practices; and that dental practices activities and ability to trade are severely restricted despite being technically open.
“In short, the response has been wholly unsatisfactory.”
He stated that dentists are “facing a stress on their finances that they are increasingly unable to meet”.
“Personally, many of these dentists are at their wits end. They need help, and they need it urgently from the Executive,” he wrote.
Mr Graham called for a bespoke support package for private dentists, and additional funds “to keep Health Service dentistry viable”.
“We need a dedicated support package to be put in place for private dentistry, and additional funding is needed for the general dental service that recognises the additional costs of providing services post Covid-19,” he said.
“We look forward to the Executive’s response to our call for urgent support.”
Since June 8, practices have only been offering face-to-face urgent dental care.
Practices have been seeing around 2,200 patients per week with around 250 patients per week being seen in NI’s Urgent Dental Care centres, according to the Health and Social Care Board.
Non-urgent dental care treatments that are non-aerosol generating begin in two weeks, while routine appointments are scheduled to start again on July 20.