A Nottingham woman says she has been left with a painful broken tooth for two years after being removed from her dentist’s books during what campaigners now say is a ‘crisis’ in NHS dental care.
Dentistry is one of the few NHS services where patients pay a contribution
towards the cost of NHS care at the point of treatment.
But there are major problems with recruiting new dentists nationally, and very few surgeries are accepting new NHS patients without referrals.
The shortages are partly due to the current NHS dental contract which was introduced in 2006.
In 2022 new reforms to the dental contract meant NHS dentists could be paid more for treating more complex cases and dental therapists could start accepting patients for NHS treatments.
As of Friday June 2, according to the online NHS dental service finder, not a single Nottingham city practice is currently listed as accepting new NHS patients without a referral.
Listings for all the rest say practices are either not accepting NHS patients or have not updated their status for some time and should be contacted directly. Some of the practices are accepting children.
Andrew Lord, who runs the Toothless in Nottingham campaign group, branded the situation a “crisis”.
The Government says it is “working to improve access to NHS dental care” and is investing more than £3 billion a year.
One woman, who wished to remain anonymous, said she was registered with the My Dentist surgery on Southchurch Drive in Clifton for 27 years before she was removed from their patient list during the pandemic.
A spokesperson for the practice said if a patient hasn’t attended for several years, their space is made available for others on the waiting list.
The 56-year-old said part of her tooth broke off in 2020 and she has still not been able to get it treated.
The woman said the family last visited the dentist before the pandemic.
She said: “The top piece of my tooth came off and I’m getting abscesses and infections because it isn’t covered.
“I can’t get antibiotics from the doctor because it’s a dental issue.
“After lockdown, I rang the dentist up and they told me they couldn’t find me on their list.
“They said they rang me at the time to see if I still wanted to be registered with them but I never got a call. I was so shocked when they said I wasn’t on the list any more.
“Since then I’ve been trying to get a dentist but nowhere is taking on NHS patients.
“Some of them say they have room for private patients but just a check-up would cost £49. If I went private I wouldn’t be able to feed my kids.
“The electric and gas and food prices are just too much to pay for, I’ve got to choose between one of the other already.
“I’ve got more depressed about it because I can’t get my teeth sorted and I’m worrying about where I’m going to get it done.”
Mr Lord, who runs the local branch of the Toothless in England campaign, said he started the local campaign because he “saw the mess the government are making of dentistry”.
He said: “In some areas north of the county, like Mansfield, Ashfield, Bestwood and Top Valley, many people are without a dentist at all.
“People are finding they’re not on the NHS dentists list and they’ve got nowhere else to go.
“Part of the campaign is to keep our ears open to find dentists accepting NHS patients. I’ve been doing this for six months and I’ve found one accepting NHS patients.
“They’d already filled their small allocation by the time I contacted them.”
He said dentistry is a “service where there is a massive need” in Nottinghamshire.
He said: “We’re in the middle of a crisis as things stand because people can’t get a dentist for love nor money.
“Waiting lists can be up to two years long.
“The future is not looking any brighter because Rishi Sunak is in complete denial of the situation.
“The Government needs to acknowledge there is a problem.”
He said the answer to the huge problem is to get a new contract for NHS dentists.
He said: “Dentists are almost making a loss on NHS patients that they see.
“Dentists have to put food on the table as well, they’ve got their own bills to pay and businesses have their overheads going up all the time.
“I’ve had people contact me to tell me they’ve been trying to do their own refit their own fillings because they’ve come out, using superglue or putty.
“I had a message from an elderly gentleman who has been in constant pain for the last eight months with toothache and he’s been told he could go private and pay £150 to have it taken out.
“He said he couldn’t cope with that, he can barely afford the NHS costs.”
A spokesperson for My Dentist said they were sorry the woman had difficulty in booking an appointment.
They added: “Our practice teams work hard to provide dental care for as many people as possible. There is, however, an acute shortage of NHS dentists across the country which sadly means that access to NHS dentistry is severely limited.
“Based on Government guidance, patients are no longer registered to a particular dental practice, allowing them the freedom to move as they wish. This means that if a patient hasn’t attended the practice for several years, the space is made available for other patients who may be struggling to access an appointment.
“Our practice teams try their very best to accommodate all requests for NHS care, but when that’s not possible, they may also offer affordable private alternatives if they are available.”
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “We are working to improve access to NHS dental care and have already increased the funding practices receive for high-needs patients to encourage dentists to provide more NHS treatments.
“We have amended the guidelines so dental therapists and hygienists can deliver more treatments – as well as making it easier to recruit dentists from overseas – and we will be setting out further measures to improve access shortly.”