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.
It’s rarely a top priority for people and I don’t often receive correspondence on the issue, but when you push people on to the subject of dental services you hear many of the same criticisms. It’s too hard find a dentist; the available ones are too far away; the local dentist is now private and the fees are unaffordable.
Many people go years without a basic check-up, or have given up altogether on trying to find a dentist.
The figures show that it’s children who are the worst affected by this situation. Recent statistics have shown that 42% of children did not visit an NHS dentist last year. There were 45,224 cases of children aged from infancy up to 19 who needed hospital treatment because of tooth decay in 2016/17.
I’ve been questioning the Government recently over the adequacy of dentistry provision. You can see their full response below, but I find the suggestion that 41% of adults didn’t even try to get an appointment to be striking.
How could the NHS cope if everyone was as pro-active as we’d like, and is poor provision causing people to stop engaging unless they face a dental emergency?
What has you experience been of local dentists? Have you struggled to find somewhere? Have you given up looking? I’m interested to hear from local residents on this issue.