Britain's decaying dental industry facing ticking NHS 'timebomb'

Britain’s decaying dental industry is facing a ticking ‘timebomb’, health chiefs warn – as 10 counties with the fewest dentists per person is revealed

  • Health bosses issue a fresh warning saying NHS dentistry is ‘in its death throes’ 
  • Waiting times in some area have reached more than a year, dentists have warned
  • It comes as fresh figures reveal the worst place in the UK to find an NHS dentist
  • Desperate people resort to DIY dentistry or travelling hundreds of miles for help 

Britain’s decaying dental industry is facing a ticking ‘timebomb’, with health chiefs today warning NHS dentistry is now in its ‘death throes’. 

Millions could ‘lose out’ on vital treatment, dental bosses have claimed, unless the Government takes ‘urgent’ action to reform the service, pumping in more cash and recruiting extra staff.

The plea comes as the MailOnline can today reveal the scale of the crisis facing NHS dentists in England, with some patients waiting a year or more for treatment.

In the 10 worst counties in England there are just 2,815 NHS dentists serving a population of more than 11.5 million people – or an average of one dentist to every 3,476 people.  

The country’s worst area to receive NHS dental treatment is Kent, with just 407 dentists covering a population of almost 1.6 million – or one to every 3,904 people.

While Hampshire, where the dental crisis has been raging for several years, is rated as the second-worst offender, with only one NHS dentist to every 3,773 people in its 1.85 million population. 

‘The clock is ticking on NHS dentistry, and millions stand to lose out,’ British Dental Association Chairman Eddie Crouch told MailOnline.

‘Ministers are just rearranging the deckchairs as the ship goes down. Underfunded and overstretched, if this service is going to have a future it requires urgent reform and investment.

‘During lockdown the nation saw what life was like without NHS dentistry. Inaction now risks making that a permanent arrangement.’ 

The figures come as new statistics reveal that patients were delaying check-ups by five years, with 40 per cent of people not going to the dentist at all. While some patients were resorting to ripping out their own teeth.

And the cost of living crisis and shortage of NHS dentists is to blame for this, according to a new survey of 5,000 people by Dental Phobia. 

Now front-line dentists have accused the Government of not pumping in enough cash into the service – and claim that pledges by Whitehall to introduce new measures to improve treatment had not gone far enough.  

Chris Savage, 42, resorted to yanking two of his own teeth out in his bedroom because he couldn’t register with a dentist or book an emergency appointment

The labourer said he had been in ‘agony’ for days, and revealed that just touching the tooth with his rusty pair of pliers set off waves of ‘agonising pain’

Award-winning dentist Dr Rhona Eskander (pictured), left her role as working in the NHS after eight years and said the stress had taken its toll on her mental health. She now works privately

Phil Gowers, a veteran dentist who represents hundreds of people in the profession, told MailOnline: ‘We’re in the death throes of NHS dentistry. They need to put more money in and they haven’t.

‘The dental deserts are getting bigger and the arid winds change are sweeping through the country.

‘Dental nurses get more working for Lidl than they get working as a dental nurse. All of us are left with a stark choice.’

Dental practice warns its patients the crisis facing NHS dentistry ‘will only get worse’

Atwal and Barot dental practice in Rugby (pictured) recorded a voice message for patients warning the dental crisis will ‘only get worse’.

‘The crisis in NHS dentistry will only get worse’ – this is the stark warning a dental practice gave to its patients.

The message was recorded by staff at Atwal and Barot, in Rugby, Warwickshire as overstretched staff warned locals they could no longer take on any more patients.

The bleak warning comes as figures obtained by MailOnline revealed the county of Warwickshire was in the top 10 worst places in England for the number of available NHS dentists. 

In the message, callers to the practice were told: ‘This crisis in NHS dentistry will only get worse, so we very strongly suggest you ring your local MP Mark Pawsey… and voice your concerns in the hope he will feed this information back to central government.’

In Warwickshire, there is just one NHS dentist to every 3,174 people in the country – placing it as the ninth-worst place in England. 

Describing the situation facing the industry, the practice told the BBC: ‘We’ve had to close our waiting list because there is little hope of even seeing the 500 plus patients already on it.’

It added the woes had been caused by the Coronavirus pandemic, with few patients being seen,combining with fewer new dentists being trained  to create a perfect storm of dental chaos.

‘The system is broken and trying to provide high quality dental care for our patients in the confines of the NHS has become difficult,’ the statement said. 

Since June 2021, Britain has seen five Health Secretaries and three Prime Ministers.

Health campaigners say the political maelstrom that has gripped Westminster over the past 18 months has stunted efforts to bring effective change to dentistry and the wider NHS.  

Mr Gowers added dentists were no longer interested in working for the NHS due to the ‘poor pay, long working hours’ and the stress which was leading some professionals to ‘burnout’ in a matter of a few years.

‘They don’t want to work for NHS dentistry. They come in and want to do private work. You have got to make this more attractive. People just don’t want to do it,’ he added.

Dr Rhona Eskander, left her role as an NHS dentist in Kent and London after eight years. Now an award-winning cosmetic dentist in Chelsea, she said the pressure facing her NHS colleagues was crippling and pushing many to breaking point. 

‘NHS dentistry has been at boiling point for years. It’s an iceberg effect that we have only seen the tip off. And it is only going to get worse,’ she said. 

‘It really affected my mental health. The public don’t recognise how much dentists are suffering. Dentistry has one of the highest suicide rates of any profession… I know two dentists that have committed suicide in the last few years.’

Dr Rhona added the treatment targets dentists faced – known as UDAs or units of dental activity – needed to be scrapped.

And the top dentist warned that backlogs of NHS patients were still blighting the service, with some people waiting for years for treatment. 

‘The situation is extremely severe,’ she added. ‘There is a dental timebomb that’s ticking. There are areas in the UK with an estimated four to five years wait to have a dental appointment.’ 

Cash-strapped Brits are now facing the bleak choice of either forking out hundreds of pounds for private treatment or suffer in agony until an NHS dentist becomes available. 

Among the area’s worst-hit cities in the country is Portsmouth. The island community has been in the throes of a dental crisis since 2019.

It came after the closure of Colosseum Dental Group’s three practices there, which left some 20,000 residents without an NHS dentist. 

The nightmare closure forced some people in the city to rip out their own teeth as they could not afford to go private.

While other desperate residents were forced to travel for hours to find an NHS dentist, with one family making a 166-mile round trip to Watford and back every six months, according to Portsmouth South MP Stephen Morgan.

‘Ministers have failed to grasp the nettle and tackle the systemic problems Portsmouth NHS dentistry faces, with nothing to boost patient access in my city and nothing to keep dentists in the NHS,’ the Labour shadow minister told MailOnline. 

‘As the British Dental Association has said, changes announced in the summer to NHS dental contracts only paper over the cracks and fail to offer a single penny of new investment to fix the dental desert my city has become.

Dental leaders have warned that patients are struggling to see an NHS dentist, with lengthy waiting lists. Pictured is a library image of a dentist assessing a patient

‘The clock is ticking on NHS dentistry, and millions stand to lose out,’ British Dental Association Chairman Eddie Crouch (pictured left) told MailOnline. While Louise Ansari (right), national director of Healthwatch England, said ‘further significant change’ was needed

‘Constituents I’ve spoken to have had to resort to DIY dentistry or travel across the country just to get a regular check-up. It is unsustainable and an unacceptable record of this Tory government.’ 

Among those resorting to DIY dentistry was labourer Chris Savage, who used a pair of pliers to yank out two of his own teeth.

The 44-year-old, from Southsea in Portsmouth, took the extreme measure after being unable to get a dental appointment.

He said he had been in ‘agony’ for days, and revealed that just touching the tooth with his rusty pair of pliers set off waves of ‘agonising pain’.

He admitted to getting ‘very drunk’ beforehand by downing eight cans of Stella Artois to mask the pain before he pulled out the first tooth. He then waited a day before pulling out the second tooth.

He said: ‘I ended up having to get very drunk the first time. Nobody wants to take part of their own face away with a set of pliers and no real painkillers.

‘I put the pliers on my tooth and the second I did that it hurt. So I took them away, waited five minutes, built up again and then thought I’ve just got to do it.

‘The squelch noise as you pull it out is like nothing I’ve ever experienced and I thought ‘I’ve made a big mistake here’.

‘Then 10 minutes later there was a massive relief, but I couldn’t do that second one.’

Leading dental campaigners have warned the NHS dentistry is in crisis and needs urgent reform along with extra cash pumped into it 

Nine out of NHS dental practices were unable to offer appointments to new patients, shock study reveals as waiting times hit more than a year in some regions 

A whopping 90 per cent of NHS dental practices were unable to offer any appointments to new adult patients, a shock survey has found. 

The study carried was out between the British Dental Association (BDA) and the BBC found between May and July.

It found that across England, 91 per cent of NHS practices were not accepting new adult patients – a total of 4,933 of 5,416 sites. 

But this figure rose to 97 per cent in the East Midlands and 98 per cent in the South West, North West and Yorkshire and the Humber.   

Of those practices not taking on adults in England, 23 per cent  said they had an open waiting list and 16 per cent said the wait time was a year or longer.  

Meanwhile, the research found that 79 per cent of NHS practices in England were not accepting new child patients.   

Shawn Charlwood, chairman of the BDA’s General Dental Practice Committee said: ‘NHS dentistry is at a tipping point, with millions unable to get the care they need and more dentists leaving with every day that passes.

‘We’re seeing the results of years of chronic neglect, set into overdrive by the pressures of the pandemic. The question now is will Ministers step up before it’s too late?

‘Nothing we’ve heard from government to date gives us any confidence this service has a future. Without real reform and fair funding NHS dentistry will die, and our patients will pay the price.’

He is not alone. Recent figures suggest that one in 20 Britons are resorting to DIY dentistry due to a drought of NHS dental appointments, a shocking poll suggests.

Some of the methods desperate people have resorted to include pulling blackened teeth out with pliers, to making homemade false teeth with resin and superglue. 

A new package of measures to improve patient access to dental care has been introduced by the government.

In what ministers in Whitehall hope would be a crucial move, the Government last month promised NHS dentists would receive ‘fairer payments for delivering complex dental care’. 

Previously dentists would receive the same payments for all treatments delivered within band two, which includes fillings and tooth extractions, regardless of the amount of time taken to deliver the work. For example, they would receive the same payment for one filling as three fillings.

The Government said this meant practices may not have been able to afford to take on patients who had put off seeing a dentist for years and may have needed ‘extensive’ work. 

Health Minister Neil O’Brien said: ‘I am determined to make sure everybody seeking NHS dental care can receive it when they need it.

‘Our new contract rewards dentists more fairly for taking on high needs patients and delivering treatments to those who need it most.

‘It will not solve all the problems overnight, but it will help improve access and ensure the system supports dentists and their teams.’

Healthwatch England, which represents patients across the country, said these steps were a ‘good start’ but warned the Government still needed to do more.  

‘Ever since Healthwatch was created in 2013, we have heard from people having difficulty getting an appointment with an NHS dentist. However, the pandemic made things worse for more people, with dental practices in many regions either closing down or not accepting new NHS patients,’ Louise Ansari, the organisation’s national director said.

‘Although we have welcomed recent changes to the dental contract, further significant change is needed to secure a sustainable dental service that ensures universal access to NHS treatment across the country.’

And Shawn Charlwood, chairman of the General Dental Practice Committee, said the new changes introduced by the Government failed to bring in any extra cash into the profession. 

‘These minor tweaks will not end the access crisis or give demoralised dentists any reason to stay in the NHS,’ he said. 

He warned the Department for Health and Social Care had placed a heavy emphasis on the new legal require as part of its set of new measures, announced at the end of November. 

Health Minister Neil O’Brien (pictured) said he is ‘determined to make sure everybody seeking NHS dental care can receive it when they need it’.

But he said that there was an ‘absence of meaningful change’ and that all the new measures will achieve will be to ‘broadcast the barriers facing patients across England’. 

‘It’s one thing to offer a shiny new website showing patients they can’t get an appointment,’ Mr Charlwood said. ‘It’s quite another to put in place reform and funding so millions can get the care they need.’

The Government says that during the pandemic, NHS dentistry was supported with £1.7bn through reduced activity thresholds. This meant that practices needed fewer dentists to deliver against their contract.

Between 2021 and 2022, 24,272 dentists performed NHS activity, an increase of 539 on the previous year, the Department for Health and Social Care claimed. 

Meanwhile, a GP Patient Survey showed that more than 75 per cent of patients who tried to get a dental appointment in the last two years were successful.

And NHS dentists delivered 26.4 million course of treatment between April 2021 and March 2022, more than double the 12 million reported in the previous 12 months.    

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson told MailOnline: ‘We are committed to improving patients’ access to NHS dental care, including by training and recruiting more dentists – last year, over 24,000 dentists performed NHS activity.

‘We are investing more than £3 billion a year to improve access to dental care for all NHS patients and we’ve changed the dental contract to ensure that dentists are paid more for complex work and are treating the maximum number of patients possible.’

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