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Dentistry: Access crisis piling pressure across NHS

The British Dental Association has said figures from the Labour Party on the nearly 70,000 patients who sought dental care in emergency departments last year are just the tip of the iceberg, and that the access crisis in dentistry is being felt in all corners of the health service.

Dental charges and ongoing access problems have long pushed patients from high street dentistry to A&E services and General Practice, but access problems have escalated, with unmet need for dentistry now standing at 12 million, or 1 in 4 of England’s adult population. Medics are neither trained nor equipped to provide dental care, and these visits typically require a referral back to a dentist. While patients can receive pain relief, or antibiotics for infection, they usually require an operative intervention.

Tooth decay remains the number one reason for hospital admissions among young children. The first oral health survey of 5-year-olds published since lockdown showed no improvements in decay levels and a growing gap between rich and poor. Widening oral health inequality is set to pile more pressure across both primary and secondary care.

Ministers pledged a recovery plan for NHS dentistry in April 2023. Widely expected before summer recess, it remained unpublished as parliament broke for conference season. In July the Health and Social Care Committee concluded its damning inquiry, describing the state of the service as “unacceptable in the 21st century”, and set out recommendations to government for real, urgent reform, alongside a call for any recovery plan to be underpinned by necessary funding. The Government’s response to the inquiry has been overdue since 14 September 2023.

British Dental Association Chair Eddie Crouch said:

“From GP surgeries to A&E, the crisis in NHS dentistry is piling pressure on every corner of our health service.

“Our medical colleagues can offer pain relief or antibiotics, but these won’t cure toothache.

“Patients in dental pain need a dentist, but any progress hinges on real reform and investment. Until then millions will have nowhere to go.”

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