Jeremy Laurance: How the search for free dental care became like pulling teeth

Share
Related Topics

Queues of patients gathering at first light to register when a new NHS dentist opens are the starkest illustration of the crisis in dentistry. Scarborough, Portsmouth, Truro and Titchfield Common in Hampshire have all seen them.

Tony Blair's pledge at the Labour Party conference in 1999 that everyone would have access to an NHS dentist has turned to ashes. Latest figures from last year, showed that just 55.7 per cent of adults and 70.5 per cent of children had seen an NHS dentist in the previous 24 months, and two million who wanted to see one had failed to do so.

Some have become so desperate they pull their own teeth. A survey last October by the Commission for Public and Patient Involvement found that of 5,000 people questioned, three quarters said they had been forced to go private because they wanted to stay with their NHS dentist and he was switching or they could not find an NHS dentist.

One in 10 said they did not have a dentist and three respondents said they had performed DIY dentistry. A patient in Lancashire said he had removed 14 of his teeth and another in Wiltshire said he had "taken most of my teeth out in the shed with pliers".

The Government claims there are more dentists working in the NHS than ever before. But dentists are free to divide their time between NHS and private work, and they are doing much more of the latter. In 1990, they earned £1 in every £20 from private work. Now it accounts for more than half their income.

The increase in private work was accelerated in April 2006 with the introduction of a new contract. This swept away the old system of 400 separate payments and replaced it with three price bands in the interests of simplicity and transparency.

But the change, intended to end the "drill and fill" treatment philosophy, angered dentists who saw it as an attempt to curb their earnings. The British Dental Association says dentists remain opposed. "Access [to NHS treatment] has declined and morale among dentists has declined," said Peter Ward, the BDA's chief executive.

Tens of thousands of patients have sought dental treatment abroad, especially in eastern Europe, where prices are lowest. Mr Ward said: "The danger of doing this is that you need to ensure the treatment is safe and effective. We have high standards of infection control and high numbers of support staff in the UK, and dentists carry expensive medical indemnity insurance. So it is questionable whether patients will be better off in the end."

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Exhibition Content Developer

£19000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Based in South Kensington, this prestigi...

Recruitment Genius: Office Administrator

£16000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Established managed services IT...

Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Advisor

£15000 - £16000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Customer Service Advisor is r...

Recruitment Genius: Plant Fitter - Construction Industry

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This well established construction equipment d...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Bahrainis on an anti-government protest in May  

Hussain Jawad's detainment and torture highlights Britain's shameless stance on Bahraini rights

Emanuel Stoakes
August 1923: Immigrants in a dining hall on Ellis Island, New York.  

This election demonises the weakest

Stefano Hatfield
The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn
Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

The shadow Home Secretary on fighting radical Islam, protecting children, and why anyone in Labour who's thinking beyond May must 'sort themselves out'
A bad week for the Greens: Leader Natalie Bennett's 'car crash' radio interview is followed by Brighton council's failure to set a budget due to infighting

It's not easy being Green

After a bad week in which its leader had a public meltdown and its only city council couldn't agree on a budget vote, what next for the alternative party? It's over to Caroline Lucas to find out
Gorillas nearly missed: BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter

Gorillas nearly missed

BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
Downton Abbey effect sees impoverished Italian nobles inspired to open their doors to paying guests for up to €650 a night

The Downton Abbey effect

Impoverished Italian nobles are opening their doors to paying guests, inspired by the TV drama
China's wild panda numbers have increased by 17% since 2003, new census reveals

China's wild panda numbers on the up

New census reveals 17% since 2003