People forced to pull out their own teeth amid NHS dental crisis, report finds

Wesley Leader tells ITV News's Martha Fairlie he's resorted to fixing his dental problem with putty bought online

People in the UK have been forced to pull out their own teeth at home because they cannot access or afford an NHS dentist, a damning new report has found.

The Health and Social Care Committee's examination of NHS dentistry calls for "urgent and fundamental reform" and said there was evidence of pain and distress that is "totally unacceptable in the 21st century".

The document cites a YouGov poll of 2,104 people across the UK, which was conducted last March.

Some 10% of people admitted to attempting "DIY dentistry". More than half (56%) of the group carried it out in the last year and 20% said they did so because they could not find an NHS dentist.

The survey also found 22% of people were not registered with a dentist, with 23% of those saying it is because they cannot afford treatment.

The committee received written evidence from more than 30 Healthwatch groups, with case studies provided by Healthwatch Lincolnshire highlighting how people had pulled problem teeth out with pliers, or been forced to make a five-hour round trip to see an NHS dentist.

A roundtable hosted by the committee in June also heard accounts of patients extracting their own teeth at home, as well as people feeling isolated due to worsening oral health.

Wesley Leader, who lost his front teeth in a childhood accident, uses putty bought online to make a temporary bridge. He told ITV News he had to resort to self-help because he can't access the care he needs on the NHS.

"At the end of the day it affects people's day-in, day-out lives. This is something they should be on top of really. It should be just as important as every other service on the NHS," Mr Leader said.

Wesley Leader has had to resort to DIY dentistry as he can't access what he needs on the NHS

The report said there is a "significant regional variation" in access to NHS dentistry. Those affected most included people from deprived areas, people from ethnic minorities, homeless people, people with complex needs such as autism, and refugees.

Freedom of information requests are also claimed to have revealed the primary dental care underspend for 2022/23 was forecast to reach £400 million.

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Steve Brine, chairman of the Health and Social Care Committee said: "Rarely has an inquiry been more necessary than this one.

"To hear of someone in such pain and distress that they resorted to using pliers to extract their teeth demonstrates the crisis in NHS dental services.

"The problem is compounded by people being unaware of what they're entitled to and a contract that is unfit for purpose when it comes to paying dentists for treating NHS patients."

The committee is now calling on the government to ensure every person who needs an NHS dentist is able to access one a "reasonable distance" from their home and in a "reasonable time frame".

A dental workforce survey should also be commissioned, the report says, as well as the roll-out of a patient information campaign to improve awareness of how NHS dentistry works.

Shawn Charlwood, chairman of the British Dental Association's General Dental Practice Committee, said the report is "an instruction manual to save NHS dentistry".

He added: "The real question now is whether government or opposition are ready to use it. Failure to act will condemn this service to oblivion."

An NHS spokesperson said: "While the number of dental appointments available for NHS patients is steadily increasing and the GP Patient Survey found seven out of ten patients had a good overall experience of dental services, the NHS has already started to address some of these recommendations through initial contract changes last year.

"These significant reforms will continue to further support dental teams to carry out even more treatments and address the inevitable backlogs that built up during the pandemic, while record numbers of dentists, dental therapists and hygienists will be trained as part of the NHS Long Term Workforce Plan."

Many thousands of people are now travelling abroad to Europe for dental work - which can work out cheaper - because they can't see an NHS dentist and can't afford to go private in the UK.

Dr Onur Akay from Antalya, Turkey who is the owner of Dentakay dental hospitals, said: "In 2019, when the first ‘health tourists’ arrived from the UK to be treated in our hospitals, there were 15 such patients in total, but last year this increased to more than 2,200."

To cope with the growing numbers, they're opening a consultation centre in London later this month to act as a triage unit, before people travel abroad.

Dr Akay added: "We treat thousands of patients a year from all over the world, with more than a half now coming from the UK."