Access to NHS dental care continues to be a problem for people across England.

Healthwatch England has recorded a 22% rise in calls and complaints about dentistry between January and March 2021.

They found a lack of consistency across the country when it comes to accessing a dental appointment. Some people were asked to wait an unreasonable time of up to three years for an NHS appointment. Whereas those able to afford private care could get an appointment within a week.

High cost of dental care

Some people were charged £400 to get one tooth out. Furthermore, an individual reported being asked to pay over £7,000 for their dentures privately.

But private treatment is not an option for everyone. Many people are now struggling to pay even for NHS treatment.

A poll of 2,019 adults found 61% of respondents felt that NHS dental treatments were too expensive.

The poll, which looked at people’s experiences of NHS dentistry during the pandemic and how it has impacted their future habits, found the following:

People’s experiences of NHS dental charges

  • Over a quarter of respondents said they either struggle to pay or avoid dental treatments altogether because they cannot afford the costs.
  • About one in three have reported they felt pressured into paying private fees to get all the dental treatment they needed. And nearly two in five reported that they had been charged extra for their NHS treatments.
  • Almost a quarter feel they will now visit the dentist only when they need treatment. This is despite clinical guidelines recommending regular dental check-ups to keep people’s mouths healthy.
  • Demographic groups who have been affected the most by the lack of NHS dental appointments and NHS dental fees include people on low incomes and those from ethnic minority groups. The same groups who have been worst hit by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Find out more about the findings

Calling for equitable and affordable dental care

Reform of dentistry has been underway since 2009. Earlier this year, it was announced that NHS England would be taking over the process from the Department of Health and Social Care. But reform plans have yet to be announced.

In a recent report on the future of the NHS, the Lancet Commission stressed ‘an absence of affordability is a major barrier to dental care’ and suggested an abolition of patients’ co-payments to access and receive dental care.

We call for greater ambition and urgency from NHS dental reform plans to create more equitable and affordable dental care.

Published on 26 May

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3 comments on "Twin crisis of access and affordability calls for a radical rethink of NHS dentistry"

  • Commenter said on 7th June 2021

    People in care homes and nursing homes are also being failed! My relative is in a nursing home in Bucks and hasn’t seen a dentist in years !! Even before Covid it was difficult to source a dentist to visit. Where is the duty of care?? Doctors that visit don’t see dental care as being a health need unfortunately.

  • Commenter said on 8th June 2021

    It is a known fact that if teeth are not regularly checked it can lead to other more serious health problems. There should be a dental link with GP’s.
    Currently some dentists convince people they need more attention. Fact..People who can pay for treatment will always go private.
    My suggestion is : Annual or bi-annual hygienist check, to be covered by NHS, follow on treatment paid for by patients. Dental costs should be regulated.
    Research is ongoing, how is new treatment offered to the patient, should NHS review the treatment and cover part of the initial costs?

  • Commenter said on 24th June 2021

    So much for reform!
    Yes, it’s a disgrace, but what about residents of care homes?
    There is also a lack of specialist dental services that visit people in the community.
    CQC findings in June 2019 state: the majority (52%) of care homes visited had no policy to promote and protect people’s oral health (and that was before Covid 19).

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