Rishi Sunak has pledged to “restore” NHS dentistry by ringfencing its funding, strengthening prevention, and encouraging dentists to stay in the health service.
The Tory leadership hopeful, who is lagging behind his rival Liz Truss in polls of voting Conservative Party members, vowed to address the “unprecedented pressure” dentistry is under if he becomes prime minister.
It comes after a recent survey found that the majority of NHS dental practices are unable to offer appointments to new adult patients.
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.
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.
As part of his five-point plan, Mr Sunak would strengthen the protections around the annual NHS dentistry budget and review dentists’ contracts to resolve problems that have caused them to shift to private work, his campaign said.
He would review recruitment policies that currently make it easier for dentists to join the private sector, and look at opportunities for upskilling dental nurses, therapists and hygienists.
In order to boost preventative measures, the former chancellor would also start a pilot on dentists visiting primary schools for check-ups.
Mr Sunak said: “NHS dentistry is under unprecedented pressure with people unable to get the treatment they need, leaving them in pain or forced to fork out thousands for private care.
“My five point plan will be activated on day one to free up dentistry professionals to do their jobs, encourage NHS trained dentists to stay in the NHS, and focus on prevention as that is always better than the cure.
“As prime minister, I’ll be focused on getting the British people more bang for our buck from our NHS.”
The investigation by the British Dental Association (BDA) and BBC also found that in England, 79% of NHS practices were not accepting new child patients.
The broadcaster 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%.
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BDA chairman Eddie Crouch said: “Whoever takes up the reins in Downing Street must act to end a crisis affecting millions, but we need deeds, not words.
“The constituents of both leadership contenders have next to no options. The same applies to families in every corner of this country.
“This can’t be another exercise in rearranging the deckchairs. Any progress will require real reform and fair funding.”