COVID-19: GDC guidance for dental professionals

Last updated: 10 November, 2021

These remain difficult and worrying times for us all as we navigate the many challenges we face and try to develop good solutions to problems as they emerge.

For the GDC's part, we are being guided by two main principles. When developing our approach, we are seeking to:

  • minimise the regulatory burden on dental professionals wherever possible
  • maximise flexibility for dental professionals to manage their professional activities in response to the challenges of COVID-19.
Infection prevention and control measures for all healthcare settings across the UK are staying in place. But, with restrictions lifting in England, different rules in place in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, and a range of recommendations relating to other settings, there is potential for confusion or a mismatch between what patients might expect when visiting the dentist and the reality they will face. 

We know from our COVID-19 research that patients have really appreciated direct communications from their dental team to keep them informed about how to access services and what to expect. 

If you have not done so already, reaching out proactively to your patients will help manage their expectations, keep your practice safe and maintain good relationships. We have updated our guidance for the public to help members of the public understand why restrictions are staying in place in dental settings and you may find this is useful to share in your communications.

Expert advice on the clinical aspects of COVID-19 will continue to come from the health authorities of the four nations and we will continue to signpost to this guidance as and when it is updated. But that guidance will inevitably not cover every potential scenario, and therefore, dental professionals will need to continue exercising their professional judgement and weigh the risks in any given situation. They will also need to continue to assess whether they are trained, competent and indemnified to carry out the activity in question.

In a joint statement from healthcare regulators in January 2021, we said that we understand that in highly challenging circumstances, professionals may need to depart from established procedures to care for patients and that should concerns be raised, relevant environmental and human factors would be taken into account.

We have also published supplementary advice which provides a lasting point of reference for GDC decision makers about the factors they should take into account in considering the impact of COVID-19 on a professional’s ability to deliver care.

We have published information and FAQs on the vaccine for dental professionals on our COVID-19 vaccination guidance page.

Please note that this guidance is currently under review following the government's 9 November announcement about changes to COVID-19 vaccination requirements for health and care workers in England.

Keeping your skills and knowledge up to date through effective CPD plays an important role in patient safety and supports public confidence. However, we recognise that some of you may have been significantly affected by COVID-19, in ways which may prevent you from being able to complete enough hours of CPD to comply fully with the requirements of the Enhanced CPD scheme.

The Enhanced CPD scheme requires all dental professionals to complete a set number of CPD hours every five years, and to complete at least 10 hours of CPD in each consecutive two-year period. This helps to ensure that CPD is spread out over the five-year cycle.

You also need to make an annual or end-of-cycle CPD statement during the annual renewal period to maintain your GDC registration. The CPD year ends on 31 December for dentists, and the CPD statement deadline is 28 January.

If you’re a dentist, we encourage you to now take the necessary steps to ensure you are able to meet the requirements of the Enhanced CPD scheme before the 31 December deadline. If you are mid-cycle this means completing a minimum of 10 hours of CPD over the last two-years, including when you are in the first year of a new CPD cycle (count the hours completed in the last year of the previous CPD cycle for the consecutive two-year period). You can find out how many CPD hours you need to do this year by logging into your eGDC account.

If you are short of completed CPD hours, please do all that you can to be compliant by the deadline. However, if this proves not to be possible for reasons related to COVID-19, we will take the exceptional circumstances into account. 

Please also remember, there is some flexibility built into the Enhanced CPD scheme:

  • If you did 10 or more hours of CPD last year, you could make a zero-hours statement this year.
  • If you are at the end of your cycle and think you could make-up your shortfall with a very short extension, you could apply for a grace period (providing an additional 56 days) in writing before the 31 December.

Visit the Enhanced CPD scheme pages for more information on CPD rules. Or, if you have questions particular to your circumstances, please get in touch by emailing [email protected]

Some dental professionals have been asked, or are volunteering, to use their professional skills and experience outside the normal range of dental and oral health activities, including on the vaccination programme. As a regulator, we want to support that activity and our registrants taking part in it, while keeping to the fundamental need to do so in ways which support patient safety.

When a dental professional is providing support to the wider NHS, the same basic principles apply as in any other situation: the test is whether they are trained, competent and indemnified for the tasks they undertake.

When working outside of their normal role, registrants should satisfy themselves that they are competent to perform the tasks being asked of them, or are given the training necessary to equip them to do so.

We expect registrants to make a considered judgement about whether they are trained and competent; we do not expect them to limit themselves to the specific activities set out in their scope of practice. That doesn’t make scope of practice irrelevant: it will be a useful starting point for considering what wider tasks are appropriate, but it does not in itself constrain dental professionals’ ability to support the COVID-19 response.

With regards to indemnity, the organisation in which professionals are working or their individual indemnity provider will be able to confirm if cover is in place.

The impact of COVID-19 is being felt in every aspect of society, and fitness to practise is no exception to this.

With regards to new issues, people will continue to have legitimate concerns and it’s important that they are able to raise them with us. If they do, we are under a legal duty to investigate.

While the pandemic continues, we will continue to record and make a risk assessment of new fitness to practise concerns, as well as continuing to progress new and existing cases as far as we can.

We began some remote hearings in March 2020, and we continue to hear cases in this way wherever appropriate. Where applications are made for a hearing to be heard in person during the period of COVID-19 restrictions, a GDC hearing committee will decide how the matter should be heard.

You can find out more about remote hearings in our guidance and frequently asked questions.

Resuscitation Council (UK) recommends cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) training for dental teams.

Their document Quality Standards: Primary Dental Care states:

“Dental practitioners and other dental healthcare staff should update their knowledge and skills in resuscitation at least annually.”

In this joint statement with the Care Quality Commission, we recognise that COVID-19 social distancing can make accessing accredited training difficult. This includes Basic Life Support (BLS) and Immediate Life Support (ILS).

Providers and individual dental professionals should continue to make every effort to complete accredited BLS/ILS training annually. However, if this training is unavailable due to current COVID-19 restrictions, appropriate alternative provisions, in accordance with relevant government guidance, should be made.

For example:

  • E-learning.
  • Self-directed study.
  • Team-based scenario training in the clinical environment.

Records and evidence of efforts made to access training and to update CPR knowledge and skills should be maintained.

Further information on medical emergencies CPD is available on our Recommended Topics page.

Where patients cannot go to a dental surgery, you may be asked to provide advice remotely and to work with patients to defer the need for active treatment through the use of pain control and antimicrobial treatment.

The 10 high-level principles of remote consultation and prescribing, developed jointly with the other healthcare regulators, continue to apply and, while the pandemic continues, the key requirement is to make an appropriate clinical risk assessment.

Remote prescribing protocol can be found in NHS England's COVID-19 guidance and standard operating procedure.

Training and education have been severely disrupted by COVID-19 and we have been working with education providers to ensure that as many students as possible can still have a smooth transition into practice.

Together, we have prepared a joint statement setting out our shared approach which we recommend all students and recent graduates read. Further information will be shared here as soon as it becomes available.

Safety restrictions brought in as part of the COVID-19 response in 2020 made it necessary to suspend Parts 1 and 2 of the Overseas Registration Exam (ORE) last year.

It has always been our aim to resume the ORE as soon as it is safe and viable to do so, and we had hoped to be able to run an exam in September this year. However, in consultation with our exam providers, it is now clear that this will not be possible.

While broad COVID-19 restrictions have been lifted in England, infection prevention and control measures for all healthcare settings remain. Due to the clinical nature of the Part 2 ORE exam, it is hosted in a hospital and the continuing social distancing requirements mean that our exam provider is unable to run the exam at a viable capacity.

Anyone who was booked onto the cancelled April 2020 exams may wish to request a refund and return to the candidate list in the interim.

We know that there are some candidates who have either now exceeded the five-year time limit between Part 1 and Part 2, or shortly will, and we will be in contact with them once the future ORE schedule is confirmed.

We continue to work with our exam providers towards the full resumption of the ORE and will provide further information as soon as it becomes available.