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Opinion: NHS Dentistry - a very painful condition in need of emergency treatment



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I’ve been feeling very lucky this week, especially after hearing the ever-increasing number of horror stories doing the rounds.

I got to see a dentist, and with an emergency appointment, too. Had to pay full whack mind you, but at least the problem was cured. I am now officially long in the tooth – as verified by dental records.

For some though, the crisis, and their dental problems, are deepening on a daily basis.

The dentistry problem is a deep rooted crisis.
The dentistry problem is a deep rooted crisis.

There has been the woman from Bury St Edmunds who had to pull nine of her own teeth, another who lanced his own boil with a pin, heated on a gas cooker, and another who removed a wisdom tooth by tying a piece of string around it, attaching this to a door handle, and slamming the door shut.

I might have made the last one up; though it could be true, amid the current, almost ‘medieval’ crisis.

But it really is no laughing matter. Tooth pain can be excruciating and as well all know, is a good indicator of general health, which ignored, can lead to health problems, requiring further and significant medical attention.

The Toothless in Suffolk campaign has now gone national Picture by Mark Westley
The Toothless in Suffolk campaign has now gone national Picture by Mark Westley

The extremes people are having to go leave me open mouth, quite literally.

Yes, Covid has a lot to answer for. According to the British Dental Association, 35 million NHS dental appointments have been ‘lost’ in England alone since the start of lockdown in March last year.

In May last year 83,000 NHS dental treatments took place compared with the usual average of 3.3 million, according to the watchdog Healthwatch England.

It has left a huge backlog of work, with some patients now being warned they must wait up to three years for a routine appointment or six weeks for emergency care.

Toothless in Suffolk recently held a march in Bury St Edmunds Picture by Mark Westley
Toothless in Suffolk recently held a march in Bury St Edmunds Picture by Mark Westley

Problems accessing NHS dental care are now the number one complaint raised with them. People are also having a hard time finding private treatment, too.

Current processes such as patients having to wait outside the premises, having their temperature taken on arrival, dentists and nurses having to climb into PPE gear before doing intervention treatment are all exacerbating the problem.

Toothless in Suffolk, meanwhile, has now taken its campaign of six main aims nationwide, and I can’t help sympathising with them all. The problem is ‘deep rooted’.

They want an NHS dentist for everyone; reforms to the NHS dental contract that will encourage dentists to provide NHS treatments, and revenue to cover the 50 per cent of the population that is unfunded by the government.

They want NHS dental treatments to be free at the point of use, and people to be prioritised before shareholder dividend – with no more privatisation (aka: no more second homes for dentists, I imagine).

And finally, an end to the two-tier system – hygienists, routine check-ups and preventative treatments must be a core NHS function.

Yes, there has been a pandemic, and still is but DIY haircuts are one thing, DIY dentistry is another altogether.

Then of course, to add the the crisis, there is the impending recruitment problem with nearly 20 per cent of UK dentists coming from overseas and the problem of new ones having to gain visas they will now need after Brexit.

Dentistry needs to be high up on Boris’ levelling up promises.

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