"The survival rate of mouth cancer has not improved in 30 years" / AP

A shortage of NHS dentists is leading to thousands of needless deaths from mouth cancer, according to dental experts.

Nigel Carter, chief executive of the British Dental Health Foundation, called on the Government to improve the availability of dental care to ensure early detection of the cancer.

"The survival rate of mouth cancer has not improved in 30 years," he said. "If people were able to gain easier access to a dentist then the 50 per cent mortality rate could be significantly improved. It is Britain's secret cancer despite killing more people annually than cervical and testicular cancer put together."

There are 4,750 new cases of mouth cancer in Britain a year. A Citizens Advice survey found that almost three million adults in England and Wales have had no dental treatment since the introduction of a new NHS contract for dentists in April. The BDHF estimates that the real figure for the UK is up to 30 million.

"That's the really frightening number," said Dr Carter. "We need funding at ground level to ensure people are given easier access to dental care."