THERE are no NHS dentists taking on new patients across the entirety of Devon, forcing residents to either pay more in the private sector, drive hundreds of miles for treatment or simply abandon professional dental care altogether.
The government says it invests more than £3bn a year in dentistry. But a damning inquiry by the Commons’ Health and Social Care Committee has told the government that the pain and distress of not being able to see an NHS dentist is ‘totally unacceptable’.
The report goes on to argue that Dental reforms - recommended to the government more than 15 years ago, have still not been implemented.
Although there are over 130 dental practices that take NHS patients in Devon, five in Newton Abbot, not one is taking on patients that are not already registered with them.
The picture is similar across the UK, with a third of the country’s 200+ council areas having no dentists willing to take on new NHS patients.
NHS dentistry is free for those receiving low-income benefits, people under 18 and those who are pregnant. Others receive subsidised treatment.
However, with no dentistry in Devon taking on new patients, many who are in the most need cannot access the services that they are entitled to.
Sharon Avery is a receptionist from Newton Abbot. A mother living on what is classed as a low income, Sharon is entitled to free dentistry on the NHS. For years, she received her free dental treatment at a clinic in Devon Square. However, when the practice she was registered to went fully private last winter, Sharon was left with nowhere to go.
‘They made it clear that I was going to have to pay, but I was in so much pain I needed to go,’ said Sharon. ’I thought my front tooth was going to break off. I had to have two fillings.’
The treatment cost Sharon over £300 upfront, an expense she had to use credit to cover. She’s since had more pain but is reluctant to pay even more.
Sharon said: ‘I should be back now. I have a tooth that every so often inflames and it’s wobbly. But I’m not going back, I just self-treat it at the moment. I use painkillers and hot water bottles, make sure it’s clean and use good toothpaste.
‘When you’re on a low salary, the dentist is a real hit. For many, it’s just a price increase. But for people like myself, we don’t earn enough money, how are we supposed to fund it? Because there’s a higher chance that if you’re poor, you’re not allowed to have credit. You’re in a vicious circle, you can’t get it sorted.’
When asked about the state of dentistry in the NHS, MP Anne Marie Morris said: ‘The lack of access to NHS dentistry that many people are facing both locally and nationally is clearly unacceptable and needs urgent improvement. Teignbridge is one of the black spots with no new NHS dental practices open to register a new patient. Existing practices are full, and many are moving away from offering NHS care altogether. There is a lot wrong with the existing contracts offered to dentists and while work is ongoing to improve them, it needs turbocharging!
‘I take this very seriously, and I have spoken recently in Parliament about the need to urgently improve the situation.
‘I have also met with local dentists to discuss the problems in the system. The limits on the number of patients a dentist can take and the limits on what they can charge under the NHS contract have been a huge disincentive. The government have started changing the contract to incentivise dentists to do more NHS work and take on more difficult cases, allowing them to be paid more for complexity. However, more change is needed rapidly, and I will keep making that case to the Secretary of State.’