A staffing crisis in NHS dentistry means thousands of people who are in desperate need of repair work to their teeth are suffering in pain because they cannot get an appointment.
The warning has been made by leading dentists who said one of the worst affected regions of England is Yorkshire, where more than one in three people who are not registered with a dentist have tried and failed to access routine NHS dental services.
An analysis of official figures by the British Dental Association (BDA) reveals a postcode lottery in access to dental appointments between different NHS areas.
In the Harrogate and Rural District Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) area, 46 per cent of new patients are unable to get a dentist’s appointment, the worst in Yorkshire. The percentage was also higher than 40 per cent in the CCG areas for Scarborough and Ryedale, Bradford Districts, Greater Huddersfield and North East Lincolnshire.
This compares to rates of just 11 per cent in Hull and 13 per cent in Barnsley. The England average was 22 per cent, according to figures from an Ipsos Mori survey on behalf of NHS England.
The BDA said the Government had failed to tackle staffing shortages in NHS dentistry, and that spending per head has fallen from almost £41 to £36 over the past five years.
Judith Cummins, Bradford South MP and Vice-Chairwoman of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Dentistry, said: “These figures are a shocking indictment of the current system.
“Patients are being turned away at the door and dentists are crying out for help, yet the Government is wilfully ignoring this crisis. This has been fuelled by chronic underfunding and a broken dental contract.
“Patients are put through unnecessary pain and are often forced to seek hospital treatment, piling yet more pressure on the health service.”
The BDA said three in five dentists were planning to quit the NHS after a 35 per cent collapse in their take-home pay during the last decade. The organisation today said its analysis revealed that more than a million people in England who do not regularly go to the dentist had tried and failed to get an appointment.
Eddie Crouch, BDA vice chairman, said: “High Street NHS dentistry is on the brink, and it’s the patients who need us most who risk losing out.
“Dentists were looking for a lifeline in the recent 10 Year Plan, but were offered little more than a footnote.”
An NHS England spokesperson said: “Across Yorkshire and the Humber, NHS England is investing £5m a year, for three years, at 100 dental practices within 20 constituencies deemed most in need.
“This additional investment could lead to around 35,000 new patients being able to access dental services each year.”
The Department of Health said the overall number of dentists offering NHS care as 2,965 higher than a decade ago.