NHS dentistry: People turn to 'DIY dentistry' as 9 in 10 practices not taking new patients

No dentists taking on adult NHS patients could be found in a third of the UK's top-tier councils, according to BBC research. Credit: PA

People who are unable to get an appointment with a dentist are resorting to "DIY dentistry", the national director of Healthwatch England has said.

Louise Ansari said that "it is not unusual" to hear of people creating teeth out of resin and using superglue on their gums.

It comes after a survey by the British Dental Association (BDA) and BBC found the majority of NHS dental practices in the UK are unable to offer appointments to new adult patients.

"I think the research really does confirm and amplify what we’ve been saying for a couple of years and the situation is pretty dire, isn’t it?" she told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

“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.

“And suddenly, indeed, 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.”

Credit: PA

Ms Ansari's comments follow the release of new figures showing that across England, 91% of NHS practices are not accepting new adult patients, after years of neglect and pressures of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The British Dental Association is urging the government to provide real reform and fair funding otherwise "patients will pay the price".

The latest figures show that the situation is worst in East Midlands with 97% of dental practices not taking on adult patients, and 98% in the South West, North West and Yorkshire and the Humber.Of those practices not taking on adults in England, 23% said they had an open waiting list, and 16% said the wait time was a year or longer, or they were unable to say how long it would be.

Want a quick and expert briefing on the biggest news stories? Listen to our latest podcasts to find out What You Need To Know

In England, 79% of NHS practices were not accepting new child patients.

The BBC identified that across Northern Ireland, 90% of NHS practices were not accepting new adult patients.

For Scotland it was 82% and the figure for Wales was 93%.

Shawn Charlwood, chairman of the British Dental Association’s general dental practice committee, said: “NHS dentistry is at a tipping point, with millions unable to get the care they need and more dentists leaving with every day that passes.

“We’re seeing the results of years of chronic neglect, set into overdrive by the pressures of the pandemic. The question now is will ministers step up before it’s too late?

“Nothing we’ve heard from government to date gives us any confidence this service has a future.

“Without real reform and fair funding NHS dentistry will die, and our patients will pay the price.”

The BDA previously said that since March 2020, some 3,000 dentists are understood to have moved away from NHS work entirely.

A BDA poll of 2,200 high street dentists in England found that 45% have reduced their NHS commitment since the start of the pandemic.

The figures, shared with the PA news agency, also found that 75% are “likely” to reduce, or further reduce, their NHS commitment in the next 12 months.

A Department of Health and Social Care spokeswoman said: “Improving patient access to NHS dental care is a government priority and the new reforms to the dental contract announced last month are an important step, allowing the best performing practices to see more patients, 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, building on the unprecedented £1.7 billion support we provided during the pandemic, to protect teams and patients by paying dental practices for the work they would normally have carried out if it were not for Covid regulations.”