People in Wales 'pulling their own teeth out at home' because they can't get a dentist appointment

The report claims some dentists, if they couldn’t offer an appointment, actually directed patients to buy dental repair kits to carry out work on themselves. Credit: PA

People in Wales are resorting to pulling out their own teeth at home because they can’t get a dentist appointment, a report has found.

The finding has been made by an independent health watchdog which is warning one Welsh health board that dental needs are not being met by the NHS.The report has been published by Swansea Bay Community Health Council - an independent statutory body that exists to represent the interests of patients and the public - and concerns dentistry issues faced by people living in the Swansea and Neath Port Talbot areas.

The document, entitled ‘Accessing NHS Dental Care: Getting to the Root of the Problem’, has been published on Monday (May 9) and is a follow-up to issues raised with the local health board in a previous report published in 2020.

The report is based on feedback received from 1,370 people. Credit: Media Wales

The new report, based on feedback received from 1,370 people, has found that many patients in the region are continuing to struggle to access NHS dental services, including pregnant women and children.

It also claims that some dentists, if they couldn’t offer an appointment, actually directed patients to buy dental repair kits to carry out work on themselves.

The most startling finding however is reports that people have actually pulled their own teeth out at home. Others, meanwhile, have resorted to trying to find an appointment 15 miles away from where they live.

It was also claimed that some practices are encouraging patients to go private even though they are entitled to free dental care on the NHS, and that a lack of information about NHS practices in general is a cause of frustration for many patients.Of the people who shared feedback with Swansea Bay Community Health Council, 797 of them (the majority of which were from the Swansea area) completed an online survey. As part of the process they submitted comments regarding their experience of trying to access an NHS dentist in south Wales.One patient said: “My son has been trying to get an NHS dentist for several years and has had no dental treatment in all that time. He is only told time and time again to join on a (private) plan. It is disgusting.”

Another patient, who has not long lived in the area, said: “I moved to Swansea during the pandemic. I have called every dentist in the area to see if they are taking on NHS (patients) but have not had any luck for the past year and a half.”One patient said they resorted to carrying out their own dentistry from home. They said: “Since Covid started, I cannot get any dentist. A dentist was supposed to phone me when they had a vacancy. Two teeth I pulled out myself.”

Patients are not just worried about their own dental woes. Many parents and grandparents have expressed fears that a lack of appointments could have serious repercussions for young children, both now and in the future.

One parent said: “My daughter is five and a half and hasn’t seen a dentist since before she was two, now at a critical time of dental health as she starts to lose her baby teeth."I’m very concerned that my children’s teeth haven’t been checked for almost two years now and any treatment they may need has been delayed. Children’s teeth will be in a terrible state if dentists continue not to see NHS patients for routine care.”

'Urgent steps'

According to the body who compiled the report, urgent steps need to be taken to correct the “unacceptable levels of dental access” in the Swansea and Neath Port Talbot areas.

"Swansea Bay Health Board must reflect on the feedback in this report and our 2020 dental report to improve the reach of NHS dental services across Swansea Bay," said Hugh Pattrick, Chair of Swansea Bay Community Health Council.“There is the perceived belief among local people that some practices across Swansea Bay are closing their doors to NHS patients, depriving many of dental care.

"The health board needs to urgently address the unacceptable levels of dental access inequalities that have widened as a result of the pandemic, and which existed long before.

"With dental services being pushed to crisis point, urgent action is needed to address these systemic access issues, to ensure no patient is left without access to an NHS dentist, as public concerns persist.”Swansea Bay Health Board has been asked to comment on the findings of the report.