What is the NHS dentist shortage and why is it happening?

Nine in 10 NHS dental practices across the UK are not accepting new adult patients, a survey has found

Holly Bancroft
Monday 08 August 2022 15:15 BST
<p>In England, 91 percent of NHS practices were not accepting new adult patients</p>

In England, 91 percent of NHS practices were not accepting new adult patients

People are turning to “DIY dentistry” because they can’t get appointments, with nine in 10 NHS dental practices across the UK not accepting new adult patients.

No dentists are taking on adult patients for treatment in a third of the UK’s more than 200 council areas, an investigation has found.

The survey of around 7,000 NHS practices also revelaed that eight out of 10 were not taking on children.

Have you had dentistry problems due to the shortage? If so email holly.bancroft@independent.co.uk

How big is the dentistry shortage?

Some 8,533 dental practices across the UK are thought to hold NHS contracts and the BBC and British Dental Association survey received responses from 6,880 of them.

In England, 91 percent of NHS practices were not accepting new adult patients. This rose to 97 percent in the East Midlands and 98 percent in the South West, North West and Yorkshire and the Humber.

Of those practices, 23 percent said that they had an open waiting list. 16 percent of respondents said that the wait for treatment was a year or longer or said that they could no longer say how long the wait was.

People are ‘pulling out their own teeth’, according to Healthwatch England

What problems has the dentistry shortage caused?

People have been forced to carry out dental treatment on themselves, sometimes in very primitive ways, due to the lack of NHS services.

Louise Ansari, from Healthwatch England, told Radio 4’s Today programme: “I think the research really does confirm and amplify what we’ve been saying for a couple of years and the situation is pretty dire, isn’t it?

“So many people can’t get an NHS dentist appointment, they’re in pain, they’re anxious, some people can’t eat or speak properly.

“And suddenly, indeed, it’s not unusual for us to hear stories of DIY dentistry, things like making teeth out of resin and sticking them in to their gums with superglue, which is an absolute desperate situation for somebody to be in.”

Asked if she had heard of people pulling out their own teeth, Ms Ansari added: “Yes, absolutely”.

NHS dentistry is at a ‘tipping point’, said the British Dental Association

What’s the impact on the dental sector?

Shawn Charlwood, chair of the British Dental Association’s general dental practice committee, said that NHS dentistry is at a “tipping point”.

He said that “millions [are] unable to get the care they need and more dentists [are] leaving with every day that passes.”

He added: “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.”

Why is there a shortage?

The shortage of dental treatment is caused by a mixture of factors. Too few new dentists are being trained, according to Dr Nigel Carter, CEO of the Oral Health Foundation.

He added that Brexit, coronavirus, and dentists’ dissatisfaction with NHS contracts have also contributed to the shortage.

“We’ve had a perfect storm,” he told The Guardian. In May this year the LibDems warned that England was facing a “dentist shortage crisis” as 14 percent of NHS dentists approached retirement.

According to figures from the House of Commons library, 3,416 (14 percent) of the country’s 23,733 dentists carrying out NHS work were over 55 years old.

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