Spotlight on our community dental team
Over 8,600 patients across Somerset and Dorset with additional needs are cared for by our primary care dental service.
The service, which saw nearly 20,000 appointments in 2022/23, looks after the special care dentistry needs for adults and children who are referred to us by another healthcare provider.
The team is made up of consultants, specialists, dentists, therapists, dental nurses and business support, including receptionist colleagues.
They work across a variety of settings, from clinics in Bridgwater, Taunton, Frome and Yeovil, as well as three locations in neighbouring Dorset – currently in Bournemouth, Poole and Dorchester.
It also provides a domiciliary service for patients who can’t physically leave their homes, as well as visiting special schools, care homes and nursing homes.
Zillah Morris, our primary care dental service group manager, explains: “We tend to have a core patient group who’ve already been identified as having additional needs by a healthcare professional.
“All of our patients need a referral from a General Dental Practitioner (GDP) or other healthcare professional so we can ensure that they are right for our service. We can then book them into the best location for them and decide on the most appropriate course of treatment.
“The type of patients we look after are those with significant learning disabilities, co-morbidities, and people with complex physical and mental needs. We provide them with the specialist care they are unable to receive from the general high street dentist.
“We can’t see every adult and child in Somerset or Dorset of course, but our teams can help those who’ve been referred to us because they’re not able to cope with a visit to the regular high street general dentist.
“While we can provide many of the same treatments that you’d receive on the high street, we have that additional time and expertise when working with those groups and individuals to ensure they are not disadvantaged due to their, often complex, needs.
“We provide dentistry of a different kind, such as ‘conscious sedation’, which is effectively gas and air. We can also work with our colleagues in the acute hospital theatres to provide general anaesthetic to those patients who need that extra support while undergoing their dental treatment, or for those for whom it would be inappropriate to have treatment in a clinic room.
“Our services in Dorset and Somerset are slightly different to each other. In Dorset we’ve always provided special care community dentistry, but in Somerset we can extend this to those with a phobia of dentistry, as well as some dental activity such as minor oral surgery too.
“Some of the more practical things we can do are as simple as meeting a patient in the car park if they couldn’t face walking through the door, because there’s something about dentistry that scares them.
“It may be that we’d provide support and encouragement for them to walk into the waiting room, and then gradually into a dental chair – it’s all about building up a relationship and trust with the patient, their relatives and carers too.
“The ultimate aim for any patient who requires a one-off course of treatment, and aren’t in our core patient group, is to help them to complete that treatment and then transfer them back to their high street dentist, on the basis that after they’ve completed the required treatment, they’re now able to return and their dentists who can continue to manage their oral health.
“Each of our locations is made up of a mixture of clinical and administrative teams. These include our receptionists, dental nurses, some of which have additional skills and can take radiographs (dental x-rays) and can provide the support for IV cannulation, which sedates patients, as well as the monitoring of our patients.
“We also have dental therapists, who provide a range of clinical treatments that a dentist doesn’t necessarily have to, and of course we have dentists of various grades, ranging from trainees, to specialist and consultant dentists.
“Each clinic has a lead dentist too, and our service’s consultant in special care dentistry, based in Dorset, is also our service-wide clinical director.
“Our next step is to try to recruit a consultant/specialist in paediatric dentistry, but this is a profession that’s like gold dust, so it may take some time.
“We very much aim to be a positive, learning and progressive multi-disciplinary team, with opportunities for people to come in at all levels, whether that be straight from college, or with some experience in a different area of dentistry or healthcare in general.
“In many ways, working in dentistry at our trust can be more interesting than general dentistry on the high street, as there are so many different patient groups to work with, and in many different locations, across two counties, rather than just out of one building.
“We really support the retention of our colleagues and encourage the progression and development of our teams and individuals, so we keep a track record of the work we’ve done, which adds to their portfolios.
“Over the summer we’ve started a huge recruitment drive so if you know anyone interested in joining our team, feel free to direct them to our service video and opportunities/vacancy brochure, available on our website: https://www.somersetft.nhs.uk/dental-services/current-vacancies/.