DIY dentistry warning amid ‘dire’ shortage of appointments

·3-min read
A BDA new poll of 2,200 high street dentists in England found that 45% have reduced their NHS commitment since the start of the pandemic (Rui Vieira/PA) (PA Wire)
A BDA new poll of 2,200 high street dentists in England found that 45% have reduced their NHS commitment since the start of the pandemic (Rui Vieira/PA) (PA Wire)

Desperate patients are turning to DIY dentistry because of a “dire” shortage of appointments, the director of Healthwatch England warned on Monday.

Louise Ansari said there were people could not “eat or speak properly” because of dental problems and some had turned to “making teeth out of resin and sticking them in to their gums with superglue” due to the shortage of professional appointments.

It comes as a survey showed the majority of NHS dental practices in the UK are unable to offer consultations or accept new adult patients.

The BBC contacted 5,416 dental practices in England that hold NHS contracts, but 91 per cent said they were not accepting new adult patients.

This rose to 97 per cent for practices in the East Midlands, and 98 per cent in the South West, North West and Yorkshire and the Humber.

Less than a quarter of practices in London were taking on new adult NHS patients.

Ms Ansari told BBC Radio 4: “I think the research really does confirm what we’ve been saying for a couple of years and the situation is pretty dire.

“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.

“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.”

Out of 152 local authorities in England, there were 56 where no dentists were accepting new adult NHS patients, according to the survey.

In England, 79 per cent of NHS practices would not take on new child patients.

Liberal Democrat MP Daisy Cooper said today: “Our NHS dental system is broken. NHS appointments are scarce at best and in some places don’t exist at all. People are being forced to spend hundreds if not thousands of pounds on private dental care with some even resorting to their own at-home DIY dentistry.

“It is high time that the NHS dentist contracts were reformed and plans brought forward to recruit more local NHS dentists.”

It comes as the Health Secretary warned a “real sprint within Whitehall” would be needed to protect the NHS from seasonal flu, Covid-19 and the cost-of-living crisis this winter.

Steve Barclay said hospitals face “very serious challenges” ahead of an expected influx of patients.

“We have very real challenges coming down the track in the autumn and winter, and as far as I’m concerned there needs to be a real sprint within Whitehall, and particularly in the Department of Health, to get ready for September,” Mr Barclay told the Daily Telegraph.

There has also been a fresh warning that the health service faces a staffing crisis, with an analysis of workforce figures finding the NHS may be becoming over-reliant on recruits from abroad.

Figures from NHS Digital show the share of healthcare staff recruited from overseas almost doubled between 2014 and 2021.

It comes as junior doctors and nurses have also threatened to ballot for strike action over pay as the escalating cost of gas and food is predicted to send inflation to 11 per cent before the end of the year.

Last month the Government announced new reforms to dental contract that mean dentists will be paid more for treating complex cases and dental therapists will also be able to accept patients for NHS treatments.

A Government spokesman added: “Improving patient access to NHS dental care is a priority and the new reforms are an important step, allowing the best performing practices to see more patients, making better use of the range of professionals working in the sector such as dental therapists, hygienists and nurses, while also rewarding dentists more fairly for providing more complex care.

“The NHS commits around £3 billion to dentistry each year and have made an extra £50 million to help bust the Covid backlogs.”