It can often feel like dentistry is a forgotten part of our NHS. Fees have risen repeatedly over the last ten years while many have been left unable to access preventative care in their own community.
Last year when I asked for local residents experiences of NHS dentistry I heard from many people who tried to find a dentist but couldn’t and as a result haven’t been for many years.
Today when you look on the NHS Choices website to find a local NHS dentist there aren’t many options. I’m pleased to see there are a few nearby accepting children, but adults in my constituency would have to consider journeys to places like Westhoughton and Atherton.
This problem is reflected in national statistics. The latest figures from NHS Digital reveal that almost half (49%) of all adults in England – a total of 21 million people – have not seen an NHS dentist for over 2 years.
The same data shows that 42% of children – a total of almost 5 million children – have not been to an NHS dentist in the past year, even though NICE advises that all children should visit a dentist at least once every 12 months, and check-ups for under-18s are free.
I am concerned that poor access to simple check-ups and preventative care is passing on problems to the rest of the NHS. I asked the Health Secretary how many people attended A&E with dental issues in the last year and there were more than 18,000.
Tooth decay remains the leading reason for hospital admissions amongst young children. 43,000 children were admitted to hospital to have multiple teeth extracted under a general anaesthetic due to tooth decay last year, causing them unnecessary stress and pain, and wasting the NHS over £35 million.
GP surgeries and our hospitals are under enough strain without also needing to provide help to those who can’t access or can’t afford to visit an NHS dentist.
The Government need to address these issues. Underfunding dentistry is a false economy and will cost us all more in the long run. I will continue to lobby Government Ministers on this.