England faces the fewest NHS dentists in a decade as thousands leave the service, an industry body has warned.
A survey by the Association of Dental Groups (ADG) reveals that the country’s hardest-hit area – North Lincolnshire – has just 32 dentists offering publicly subsidized NHS care per 100,000 residents.
Other areas of the East Midlands, as well as parts of Yorkshire in the North East, are at risk of becoming “tooth deserts”. There are only around 37 NHS dentists per 100,000 people in these areas.
Nationally, 2,000 dentists stopped offering NHS services in the past year, the report found. This is a drop of nearly 10% from March 2021, when 23,733 were providing care.
National Health Service (NHS) dentists provide subsidized examinations and treatments at standard prices, often alongside private services. Under the NHS, a regular check-up costs just under $30 (£23.80), while a private equivalent can cost anywhere from $25 to $150 (£20 to £120), for example. In addition to check-ups, more extensive care can end up costing a fraction of the price of private equivalents.
NHS care is also free for many groups, including those under 18, pregnant women and those receiving certain types of income support.
While the dental profession has been “neglected for years”, the extra strain of Brexit and the Covid-19 pandemic has seen an increase in the number of dentists leaving the NHS, the ADG argued.
Industry groups fear that the dwindling number of these dentists means more people will have to pay expensive costs for private treatment. Those who cannot afford it may end up waiting a long time for treatment.
Difficult access has caused public satisfaction to plummet, the ADG report states, citing dramatic results from the Kings Fund’s 2021 survey. The think tank found that satisfaction in NHS dentistry dropped during the pandemic from 60% in 2019 to 33% in 2021.
In fact, some patients face a three-year wait for certain NHS treatments, a 2021 Healthwatch report revealed.
ADG President Neil Carmichael criticized the government for the growing shortage of dentists in the so-called “red wall” continuities. This term refers to a stretch of the north that historically voted for the opposition Labor Party. Many seats in this region turned Conservative in the country’s last general election, in what was a major electoral turning point.
Carmichael said: “Not only do the dental deserts stretch across eastern England from East Yorkshire, through Lincolnshire and all the way to Norfolk, but they are now popping up in many other ‘red wall’ constituencies that the government wants to ‘level up’. ‘. “
He praised the government’s recent commitments to reform the way dentists are recruited abroad, but said more domestic reforms were needed to ensure enough dentists were available across the country.
“What needs to follow is NHS dental contract reform and investment in our future domestic workforce – only when that happens will we have a chance to tackle England’s oral health inequalities,” he said.
Shawn Charlwood of the British Dental Association, who chairs the organization’s General Dental Practice Committee, criticized the national contract that dentists performing NHS services must sign with the health body.
He said: “Dentists are simply not seeing a future on the NHS, with a broken contract pushing talent every day that remains in place.
“Millions are without the care they need, and quick fixes are no substitute for real reform and fair funding. If ministers try to move forward without fixing a rotten system, they are just painting the cracks.
“Contract reform is not an optional extra. It is the necessary starting point to save NHS dentistry.”