PLANS for a gradual increase in dental services could mean that people in Pembrokeshire will soon be able to access more routine appointments.

The county's dentists have been busy trying to catch up with the backlog caused by the coronavirus pandemic, when all routine dental services were halted.

With the number of emergency cases being dealt with now returning to pre-pandemic levels, practices are hoping to be able to address the treatment back log.

Health Minister Eluned Morgan has set out a path for a gradual increase in routine dental services in Wales, and her commitment to the wider reform of NHS dentistry.

But she added that changes to the NHS dentistry contracts will be postponed until next year to allow the service to recover from the impact of the pandemic.

"The way people have accessed dental services during the pandemic has changed, but NHS dentistry services have continued to be there for those who need it most," she said.

"Dentistry has been one of the most challenging services for us to deliver during the pandemic, because of aerosol generating procedures and the need for dentists to be in such close proximity to the patient.

"But the service has responded to meet the challenge of providing for those most in need, and I want thank all those in the service who have worked tirelessly to deliver this.

"Dental practices will need to continue to follow strict infection control measures to help prevent the spread of COVID.

"As the risks reduce they will be able to increase the treatments and routine assessment they provide."

Since the beginning of the pandemic, dentists have seen more than 1.3m people in practices across Wales and provided 340,000 consultations remotely, via phone or video services.

Pain relief and antibiotics have continued to be prescribed where necessary.

The number of urgent cases seen by dentists is beginning to return to pre-pandemic levels, allowing practices to address the treatment back log and offer routine assessment wherever capacity allows.

But the Health Minister has said the return of other routine dental services will be gradual, as teams focus on the most urgent work and people who have had treatment delayed.

In 2012, 37% of practices in Wales were accepting new NHS patients – but by 2019 fewer than 16% were able to take on new adults.

Prior to the pandemic 40% of all dental practices holding NHS dental contracts in Wales had signed up to be part of 'contract reform'.

This contract reform was due to be restarted in October 2021, but has now been delayed until April 2022.

"We are now viewing this year as a reset and recovery period, we remain committed to reform in dentistry," said Ms Morgan,

"That is why I am announcing postponing the contract reforms until April 2022 to give the service a chance to focus on recovery."

Anyone who needs urgent dental care can access it via 111 or by contacting your health board for advice.

Until normal service resumes, there are many ways people can maintain good dental health.

More information on dental health care and treatment is available at NHS 111 Wales - Health A-Z : Tooth decay.