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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

C# R&D .NET Developer-Algorithms, WCF, WPF, Agile, ASP.NET,MVC

£50000 - £67000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# R&D .NE...

C# Developer (Web, HTML5, CSS3, ASP.NET, JS, Visual Studios)

£40000 - £50000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Developer (...

C# Developer (ASP.NET, F#, SQL, MVC, Bootstrap, JavaScript)

£55000 - £65000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Developer (...

C# Payment Developer (Swift, FOX, Vigil, .NET, SQL)

£55000 - £65000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Payment Dev...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Relatives and friends of al-Hajj family gather in a mosque to pray over the bodies of the eight family members who died during an Israeli air-raid  

Israel’s reaction has been vicious and misdirected

Yasmin Alibhai Brown
Mrs Brown's Boy: D'Movie has been a huge commercial success  

Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

DJ Taylor
Iraq crisis: How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over the north of the country

How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over northern Iraq

A speech by an ex-MI6 boss hints at a plan going back over a decade. In some areas, being Shia is akin to being a Jew in Nazi Germany, says Patrick Cockburn
The evolution of Andy Serkis: First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

The evolution of Andy Serkis

First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial: Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried

You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial...

Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried
Refugee children from Central America let down by Washington's high ideals

Refugee children let down by Washington's high ideals

Democrats and Republicans refuse to set aside their differences to cope with the influx of desperate Central Americas, says Rupert Cornwell
Children's books are too white, says Laureate

Children's books are too white, says Laureate

Malorie Blackman appeals for a better ethnic mix of authors and characters and the illustrator Quentin Blake comes to the rescue
Blackest is the new black: Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...

Blackest is the new black

Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...
Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

The US Ambassador to London holds 'jeans and beer' gigs at his official residence – it's all part of the job, he tells Chris Green
Meet the Quantified Selfers: From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor

Meet the 'Quantified Selfers'

From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor
Madani Younis: Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

Madani Younis wants the neighbourhood to follow his work as closely as his audiences do
Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

When it comes to national stereotyping, the Irish – among others – know it can pay to play up to outsiders' expectations, says DJ Taylor
Gavin Maxwell's bitter legacy: Was the otter man the wildlife champion he appeared to be?

Otter man Gavin Maxwell's bitter legacy

The aristocrat's eccentric devotion to his pets inspired a generation. But our greatest living nature writer believes his legacy has been quite toxic
Joanna Rowsell: The World Champion cyclist on breaking her collarbone, shattering her teeth - and dealing with alopecia

Joanna Rowsell: 'I wear my wig to look normal'

The World Champion cyclist on breaking her collarbone, shattering her teeth - and dealing with alopecia
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef gives raw ingredients a lift with his quick marinades

Bill Granger's quick and delicious marinades

Our chef's marinades are great for weekend barbecuing, but are also a delicious way of injecting flavour into, and breaking the monotony of, weekday meals
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014 preview: Why Brazilians don't love their neighbours Argentina any more

Anyone but Argentina – why Brazilians don’t love their neighbours any more

The hosts will be supporting Germany in today's World Cup final, reports Alex Bellos
The Open 2014: Time again to ask that major question - can Lee Westwood win at last?

The Open 2014

Time again to ask that major question - can Lee Westwood win at last?