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.

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