Teesside woman left eating baby food due to tooth decay after struggling to get NHS dental care

Debbie Fleming said her phobia of dentists left her unable to eat solid food and suffering mental health issues. Credit: ITV Tyne Tees

A woman with a phobia of dentists was reduced to eating baby food after her teeth became so decayed they started to fall out.

Debbie Fleming said she had lost a considerable amount of weight after being unable to eat properly due to the condition of her teeth.

The Teesside woman, who lost her front teeth, told ITV Tyne Tees the experience had left her with low self-esteem and mental health issues.

After undergoing cognitive behavioural therapy to overcome her phobia, she was then left "in limbo" because she was unable to find a dental surgery to provide the physical treatment she needed.

She said: "Everyone I rang to take me on, it was a flat no. Not even the offer of a waiting list. Everyone was overwhelmed with patients since the pandemic."

She eventually found Emma Green, at Grange Dental Practice, in Norton, Stockton, who has spent the last year trying to get her to the point where she could smile again.

She had lost 10kg in weight, was struggling to eat anything that was not soft - like soup or mashed potato - and her mental health was low.

She said: "I was physically a mess and I needed help."

Debbie told ITV Tyne Tees she was able to smile again after undergoing treatment. Credit: ITV Tyne Tees

She now feels able to smile again, saying: "She promised me she would make me smile by my birthday and she did it."

She added: "There's no stopping me. It's such a massive change in so many areas of my life. Having photographs with my kids. I missed out on memories with my kids because I wouldn't have my photo taken."

Ms Green mainly focusses on NHS dentistry, but due to the way it is funded can be left out of pocket with some patients. Like many practices, she does not accept new NHS patients but will help with emergency cases.

She said: "As a dentist I'm looking in their mouth and I'm mortified about what I'm seeing - these people haven't seen a dentist for 20 or 30 years.

"If we had funding available we would be able to say come back next week and we'll sort all this out for you but we can't.

"We want to. I want to be an NHS dentist. I want to sort the pain out and get rid of the abscesses and do all this."

Emma Green, of Grange Dental Practice, has spent a year working with Debbie to repair years of damage. Credit: ITV Tyne Tees

The British Dentistry Association said the unmet need for NHS dentistry is at a record high - currently one in four adults.

Dr Paul Woodhouse said NHS dentistry was "absolutely dead".

He said: "I'm thinking of one particular case where the current rate the dentist is making is £9.90 an hour.

"That doesn't cover the nurse working alongside him, let alone the electricity, the materials, the insurances and all the other expenses we've got, so he is losing money on this patient."

He added: "Patients are finding 90 per cent of practices are not accepting new patients so unless you have a NHS dentist you will massively struggle to find one."

The number of dentists offering NHS treatment is continuing to fall. According to Government figures the Newcastle and Gateshead Clinical Commissioning Group has seen one of the biggest falls, with now only 59 for every 100,000 people.

Newcastle MP Chi Onwurah said: "I've had so many constituents get in touch with me; worried parents whose children are four or five and they've never seen a dentist.

"I've had one parent who took their child to Turkey for a dental appointment. I've had others resorting to DIY surgery. They are so worried for themselves and for their children."

A Department for Health and Social Care spokesperson said: "We are working to improve access to NHS dental care by investing more than £3 billion a year in dentistry for all NHS patients but we know there is more to do.

"We recently implemented reforms to provide fairer pay for practices to take on high needs patients."

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