Thousands of dental practices are refusing to take on new patients as one couple came forward to say they had resorted to pulling out their own teeth.
Of the 2,500 NHS practices that give details about how to register online, almost half were not accepting new adult patients. The British Dental Association (BDA) said that the figures reflected “an emerging crisis” driven by ministers’ “principal interest in keeping costs down”.
Analysis by the BBC also found that 40 per cent of new child patients were being turned away from practices, despite tooth decay being the leading cause of hospital admissions among children.
Rebecca Brearey and Nick Oldroyd, an unemployed couple from Dewsbury, West Yorkshire, are among those who have not been able to gain access to dental care. They claim to have “ripped out” their own teeth to cope with the pain after being refused NHS treatment for four years.
“It got so bad that after taking a combination of paracetamol and alcohol I ripped my half-rotten teeth out,” Ms Brearey told the BBC. “I’ve literally begged to be taken on by an NHS dentist, but every time I’ve been turned away.”
“I’m on benefits and trying to get a job, and when someone sees my teeth they just think I’m another waster. I do believe if I could get some dental care I might be able to begin turning my life around.”
NHS England said that 95 per cent of people seeking a dental appointment were able to get one and 39 million treatments were carried out in England last year.
However, new figures from the NHS show that half of all adults and nearly 5 million children are not seeing a dentist regularly.
Henrik Overgaard-Nielsen, chairman of general dental practice at the BDA, said that the figures were a stark reminder that dentistry remained a “Cinderella service”. “Many dentists would love to do more NHS work, but the contract imposed on them penalises them when they don’t hit quotas and does not pay them when they do more.
“Despite years of promises we are no closer to a decisive break from a model that puts government targets ahead of patient need.”
Analysis of more than 7,000 dental practices in England that are listed on the NHS Choices website found that just over 2,500 had information about whether they were accepting new patients. Work to transfer ownership of NHS records to individual practices began in April, but some practices are still waiting for access to their profiles or learning how to update the system.