Millions all over England struggle to see an NHS dentist

Woman having teeth examined at dentists
Around 1.45 million have tried to see an NHS dentist in the past two years. [Photo: Getty]

People all over England are struggling to see an NHS dentist, research suggests.

A BBC probe found more than two million adults are unable to get an appointment.

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Of these, around 1.45 million have tried and failed to see an NHS dentist in the past two years.

The remaining half a million or so have been put on a waiting list for an appointment or simply cannot afford to contribute to their care.

Experts blame a “perfect storm” of underfunding, inadequate contracts and poor recruitment into the profession for the shortage.

“These access problems are no longer affecting a few 'hotspots', but are now the reality for millions across every English region,” David Cottam, leader of the British Dental Association (BDA), told the BBC.

“The public are entitled to access care, but the system is stacked against them.

“Those losing out are the patients who need us most.”

Dental care is available on the NHS, however, many still have to contribute to their treatment.

Young children, pregnant women and those on low incomes are the exception. This makes up nearly half of the care provided.

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For those who pay, the cost of treatment varies from just £22.70 ($28.85) for a check-up to £269.30 ($342.27) for a denture or crown.

To learn more about the extent of the problem, the BBC analysed GP Patient Survey data.

It found the single biggest reason for not seeing an NHS dentist is assuming care is unavailable, with 2.03 million people in the dark.

A further 1.45 million were turned away, 0.73 million unable to afford treatment and 0.13 million put on a waiting list.

While patients all over the country are missing out, the worst hit areas are Bradford, Brighton, Cornwall, parts of Kent, Surrey, Norfolk and London.

Data is not available for other parts of the UK, however, the BDA claims Wales is experiencing a similar problem.

Residents of Scotland and Northern Ireland also struggle to see a dentist, but to a lesser extent, it added.

England’s level of unmet need has remained consistently high over the past five years, the BBC reported.

One of those affected was Basir Afazl, who endured severe dental pain for months.

“I could not take it any more,” he told the BBC. “I was only sleeping two hours a night.”

Unable to find an NHS dentist, the charity Dentaid arranged for him to have emergency treatment to remove some teeth earlier this month.

Dentaid mainly works in developing countries but is increasingly being needed in England.

Mr Afzal was one of 50 patients treated during a two-day clinic from a town hall in West Yorkshire.

Dentaid also recently bought a second “dental van” to reach more of the country.

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The BDA blames a shortage of dentists for the crisis, with figures suggesting three quarters of clinics struggle to fill their posts.

Funding has also dropped by 29% per head in seven years, including inflation.

The BDA also points the finger at dentist contracts, with staff not being paid “overtime” once they have reached their quota.

NHS England claims it is looking into tackling the issue by making contracts more flexible.

In the meantime, it urges the public to find local dentists that are accepting patients via the NHS website.

The issue of dental care has even reached Parliament.

Labour proposes to introduce no-cost check-ups, which could eventually lead to free care overall.

The Conservatives and Liberal Democrats plan to invest more money into the NHS to improve dental services, with the latter also hoping to boost recruitment into the profession.

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