More than one million people are unable to find an NHS dentist in England, leading to a growing tooth decay crisis, according to new statistics released by the British Dental Association. Patients are being left to suffer toothache, without access to the dental care that they need – and the BDA warns it’s only going to get worse.
Three out of five dentists in England have said they will reduce their NHS work, or stop altogether, over the next five years, worsening the problem. Release earlier this year, the results of the NHS GP Patient Survey revealed around 1.03 million people don’t have an NHS dentist.
They haven’t been able to make an appointment in the past 12 months, despite Britain’s high sugar consumption leading to more patients requiring tooth extractions. In particular, young children’s teeth are suffering, with the amount of decay rocketing by 50% in the past two years.
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Why is dental health important?
Looking after our teeth is of vital importance if we hope to keep them for our entire adult life. Good oral and dental health can help prevent tooth decay, bad breath and gum disease. People who don’t brush and floss regularly will find a build-up of plaque along their gum-line, which creates an environment where bacteria can accumulate in the space between the teeth and gums. This can lead to a gum infection called gingivitis, which if isn’t treated can turn into a more serious gum disease known as periodontitis.
Any form of gum disease that is left untreated can lead to tooth loss. Statistics show that more than one million people aged between 16 and 44 have false teeth today. Although dentures look more natural than they did in the past, the most common reason for wearing them is tooth loss as a result of dental disease.
What has happened to the NHS?
When the National Health Service was launched on 5th July 1948, the publicly funded health care system was aimed at providing free treatment for everyone, regardless of their circumstances. All dental care used to be available on the National Health, which wasn’t a chargeable service at all, but rather an entitlement.
According to the document, NHS Choices, any treatment which your dentist believes necessary should be available on the NHS. This means all treatment to keep your teeth, mouth and gums healthy should be available at an affordable price. Although NHS dental treatment is no longer free, it is still cheaper than private dentistry.
However, in recent years, an increasing number of NHS dentists have also begun offering additional services for payment, combining NHS and private dentistry. A dentist can refuse to provide NHS treatment if he or she chooses, offering to perform the same treatment privately instead.
In the 21st century, the media is continually publishing horror stories about a shortage of NHS dentists. A lack of emergency dentistry is also cited as a big problem. It has led to overcrowded A&E departments, as more people are seeking urgent dental treatment at their local hospital.
Around 380,000 patients approach GPs’ surgeries every year with dental problems, but they aren’t equipped to deal with dental treatments. For many people, private treatment is much too expensive. This has led to backlogs of patients on NHS dental waiting lists.
Prices vary for private treatment, but as an example, a small tooth filling carried out privately costs around £75, while a scale and polish is £45. On the NHS, comparable treatments cost £56 and £20 respectively.
However, the £56 pays for a number of Band 2 treatments, rather than just one filling. It includes numerous fillings, root canal work and extractions, all for the one price. Pulling out one tooth at a private practice can cost around £100.
Which areas are worst-hit?
Access issues exist everywhere in England, but some areas are worse than others. In Cornwall, for example, 14,000 people have been unable to register with an NHS dentist and have to wait an average of around 18 months for a routine appointment. Other areas with particularly long waiting times include Lincolnshire, Norfolk, West Yorkshire and Derbyshire, according to NHS statistics.
The British Dental Association has demanded better public information should be made available on where to seek treatment for dental problems.
What are your dental treatment experiences? Are you registered with an NHS dentist, or are you one of the unlucky ones who have been unable to find one?