SIGNIFICANT waiting times for dental appointments at the General Hospital have been laid bare, as some children face the prospect of becoming adults before they receive a second appointment.
At worst, under-18s are facing waits of up to 357 weeks – or almost seven years – for their next appointment, a freedom of information request by the JEP has revealed.
Orthodontics outpatients are waiting a maximum of almost seven years for follow-up appointments, while children and young people have an average wait of a year for a new dental appointment, and some face three-year waits.
And the number of appointments for outpatients under the age of 18 has plummeted from 1,294 in 2019 to 480 last year, although the government has attributed a general backlog to the pandemic.
On average, outpatients are waiting two years for a follow-up orthodontic appointment, according to the figures, with this treatment focused on improving the appearance and alignment of teeth, and to correct problems with the bite of the teeth.
The government has not provided a comment on the figures, but has previously said the pandemic caused ‘significant disruption’ across many HCS departments, including the dental and orthodontic service.
One parent, who wished to remain anonymous, told the JEP that the situation was ‘really distressing’ for her family, adding that she could not comprehend that her ten-year-old, who needed ‘major work’, would be waiting until he was 17 for treatment.
They might need to look at going private in the meantime, she added.
Her family had been told at an appointment that they would be waiting seven years for treatment and, since then, had received no follow-up or communication about the steps they could take next.
The mother said she found the situation ‘disgusting’ and hoped it could be remedied as a priority, adding that the government was failing in its commitment to put children first.
Lengthy waiting times for children’s dental work have also prompted a local charity to express its concern over the ‘unacceptable’ situation.
Super Smiles, which provides oral-health education and support for children and their families, recently called for urgent screening of primary-school children eligible for government dental care. The charity said that before the pandemic struck, children in the Island already had limited access to dental care, with lengthy waits for appointments.
Writing to the Health and Social Security Scrutiny Panel, the charity’s co-founder, Sarah Pollard, said parents were ‘desperate for support and help’.
Thousands of children were waiting for both routine and restorative dental treatment, she said, adding that the current system provided by the government ‘does not support the most vulnerable children, is not prevention-focused and does not support the wider community in Jersey’.
In December, it emerged that the number of children on a government dental-fitness scheme had halved in fewer than ten years.
At a Scrutiny hearing, Social Security Minister Judy Martin said that 1,209 children were on the Jersey Dental Fitness Scheme in 2012 but this had fallen to 623, something she suggested could be down to children not having the level of dental ‘fitness’ required to get on the programme.
The scheme helps to fund the cost of routine dental treatment for young people on completion of primary school until the end of full-time education, with those on the scheme needing to be deemed ‘dentally fit’.
In a previous statement on appointment waiting times for young people, the government said it was committed to providing the ‘best possible dental and orthodontic care’