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Suffolk NHS dental crisis takes root as Sudbury practices struggle to provide routine appointments due to staff shortages

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The national dental crisis has taken a firm grip in Suffolk, with hundreds of patients left in the lurch due to a lack of available NHS dentists.

Dentistry practices in the Sudbury area have admitted struggling to fulfil requests for routine care appointments, citing the ongoing recruitment problems afflicting the NHS.

The shortage means many people are having to either reach into their pockets to pay for private services, seek out support in hospital A&E departments – or forego care entirely.

Dentistry practices in the area have admitted struggling to fulfil requests for routine care appointments
Dentistry practices in the area have admitted struggling to fulfil requests for routine care appointments

An email sent to patients by the Sudbury branch of Damira Dental Studios – seen by SuffolkNews – says the practice has recruited some dentists on a private-only basis, but it has been unable to fill vacancies for NHS dentists.

“Unfortunately, our country is currently facing a recruitment crisis for NHS dentists,” the email reads.

“Despite our best efforts, due to the nationwide shortage of dentists, we are struggling to provide routine care appointments under the NHS to most of our patients.

“All patients in need of urgent care under the NHS should continue to contact our practice to arrange an emergency appointment. However, these are limited and offered on a first-come, first-served basis.”

Clare resident Wendy Reed is among those affected by the shortage, having been unable to book an NHS dental check-up for over two years, since before the Covid-19 pandemic.

“Particularly with the rise in the costs of living, I think dental care will be one of those things that, for a lot of people, will be pushed to one side,” she told Suffolk News.

“A lot of people can’t afford to start paying private healthcare bills. I think they will stop going for check-ups and, obviously, problems will become more serious.”

Since the UK’s emergence from lockdown, Wendy said getting an NHS dental appointment had become “almost impossible”.

The 59-year-old explained that, prior to Covid-19, she and her son, aged 15, visited the dentists twice a year, but in the past year, she had been told to expect delays by both Damira Dental, and the Perfect Smile Clinic in Sudbury.

She added that Brexit appeared to have been a contributing factor to the shortage of dentists, stating that Sudbury previously had experienced professionals from Scandinavia and eastern Europe, whom she believes may now have moved away.

“In early 2021, when things were coming out of lockdown, and people were beginning to book appointments again, I was expecting a backlog, but I wasn’t expecting a staff shortage on this scale,” Wendy said.

“We’re still registered with Perfect Smile and, before the pandemic, we would go for a check-up every six months.

“Up until then, they were fantastic, and there was never a problem getting an appointment.

“They first emailed us to say they were having trouble filling vacancies and were having to put appointments back, but when I contacted them six months later, they still didn’t know when they were likely to be able to offer them.

“From what we’ve heard, it’s a regional thing. Dental staff have been lost throughout the NHS, and they’re finding it impossible to recruit new staff.

“They did offer a private plan, but I would very much prefer to stick with the NHS. I don’t have any other private health insurance, and I’d like to think the NHS can keep providing dental care.

“If it gets to the point where I have to pay for treatment, I will do. For me, I would just hold out, but I’m getting to the age where it’s important to be having regular care on my teeth.

“I think, for a lot of people, going to the dentist will just stop being a regular thing, and poor dental health can lead to all sorts of other problems.”

Last week, SuffolkNews revealed that hundreds of patients with dental problems attended West Suffolk Hospital’s A&E last year.

In 2021, 344 people turned to the emergency department at the Bury St Edmunds hospital to relieve issues with their teeth – a figure which has gradually increased over the last four years as NHS services at dental clinics have dwindled with problems cited with the NHS dental contract.