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PEOPLE with raging toothache have been BANNED from ringing a helpline over the festive period - because it is not classed as a dental emergency.

Health bosses have sent leaflets to Midland homes advising those suffering with bleeding gums, severe mouth infections and broken teeth to ring NHS Direct if they are not registered with a dentist.

But the advice, issued by Dudley NHS Health Link, goes on to state people with chronic toothache should not call the helpline, which can only advise about emergency dental treatment.

The leaflet says: 'The following are classed as an emergency: dental bleeding that will not stop, acute spreading infection, anddamage to teeth or jaws as a result of accident. 'Toothache, no matter how bad, is not classed as a dental emergency.'

The Sunday Mercury put the helpline to the test by calling NHS Direct about a fictitious toothache.

AnNHS operator said: 'No matter how bad the toothache is, it will not be classed as an emergency. It's not an emergency if it's not life-threatening.'

But she added that those in real agony and without a registered dentist could visit the Dental Hospital in St Chads, Queensway, over the Christmas break for emergency work.

The British Dental Association declined to comment on the toothache ban.

But one dental patient was furious at the decision.

Linda Powell, of Stourbridge, told the Sunday Mercury: 'The pamphlet from Dudley NHS Health Link, which is delivered to my home, attempts to paint a picture of the best health service provision in the country, if not the world. But I was stunned when I saw that toothache - even raging toothache - is not regarded as a dental emergency.

'It seems to me that NHS dental provision has sunk below the level of a Third World country. Fortunately, I will never really need NHS Direct if I have raging toothache. I am registered as an NHS patient with a local practice so I assume I will receive emergency dental treatment, including for severe toothache, should I need it.

'But I am deeply troubled for patients who are not registered.

'We have all seen pictures of would-be patients queuing around the corner whenan NHS dentist sets up in anareawhichhaspoor - or totally absent - provision.

'They are desperate for any level of care. How have we managed to come to this? I despair for our future.'

NHS Direct, which also offers advice on other medical problems, can be contacted on 0845 46 47.


A REAL PAIN: but toothache, no matter how bad, is not classed as an emergency by NHS Direct; EMERGENCIES: Dental Hospital
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Publication:Sunday Mercury (Birmingham, England)
Date:Dec 26, 2004
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