Fewer than one in three adults had seen an NHS dentist in parts of England in the last two years - as a shocking poll reveals some are turning to DIY dentistry to pull out their own teeth. The proportion of people who visited an NHS dentist has plummeted over the last five years, analysis from the House of Commons Library, commissioned by the Liberal Democrats has shown.
As of the end of June, 36.9% of adults across all of England had seen an NHS dentist in the past two years, down from 50.7% in 2017-18. But in some parts of the country the picture was far worse - particularly in parts of London, where fewer than a quarter of adults had seen a dentist within two years.
Meanwhile, 46.2% of children had seen a dentist within the recommended 12 months as of June, down from 58.6% in 2017-18. It comes as polling commissioned by the Lib-Dems revealed that one in five people who failed to get an NHS dentist appointment in the past year (21%) turned in desperation to DIY dentistry - meaning they either extracted their own teeth or performed another procedure on themselves, or they asked someone else who was not a dentist to help them.
Among those who said they have tried but couldn’t get an NHS dentist appointment in their local area, three in ten (31%) said they have stopped trying as a result, while around a quarter said they have paid for private dental treatment (27%) or delayed seeing a dentist despite suffering with pain (26%).
MP Daisy Cooper, the Lib-Dem’s spokesperson for health, said: “These figures reveal a stark postcode lottery of dental care, with far too many people struggling to see an NHS dentist when they need to. In many parts of the country, it is now almost impossible to get an appointment with an NHS dentist, leaving people waiting in pain or tragically turning to DIY dentistry instead.
“It is a national scandal that people are desperately resorting to pulling their own teeth out because our public health services have been run into the ground by this Conservative government. Local NHS services are crumbling after years of failure and mismanagement by Conservative Ministers. Ministers need to urgently announce an NHS winter rescue plan that ensures people can see an NHS dentist for affordable treatment when they need it.
“It is now or never to save our NHS from a winter of crisis that will put patients at risk.”
Eight of the ten areas with the lowest proportion of adults who visited an NHS dentist in the past two years were in the capital. In Tower Hamlets, just 21.9% of adults had seen an NHS dentist within two years, the lowest proportion in England - excluding the City of London financial district where the low population might skew the figures - and down from 33.5% in 2017-18.
Outside London, just a quarter of adults (26.0%) had visited an NHS dentist within two years in Peterborough, and just 26.9% in Thurrock, Essex. Kirklees had the highest proportion of adults who had managed to see an NHS dentist in the past two years at 51.6.%.
There was also a stark divide in the proportion of children accessing NHS dental care. In Westminster, fewer than three in 10 children (27.2%) had seen an NHS dentist within the past year, compared to seven in 10 (70.3%) in Rutland. That is despite NHS guidance that children should see an NHS dentist at least once a year.
A spokesperson for the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) said: “The Health and Social Care Secretary has set out her four priorities of A, B, C, D – ambulances, backlogs, care, doctors and dentists. The number of dentists practicing in the NHS increased by over 500 last year, and we are continuing work to improve access to dental care for all NHS patients - backed by more than £3 billion annually.”
The DHSC says Theresa Coffey - the new health secretary - will set out further detail shortly on how patients will receive the care they need this winter across the A, B, C, and D priorities.