More than 90 per cent of NHS dental practices are refusing to take new patients, according to research.
Between May and July, BBC researchers contacted more than 8,000 dental practices with an NHS contract to ask if they were taking on new patients.
Across England 91% of NHS practices that responded were not accepting new adult patients (4,933 of 5,416), rising to 97% in the East Midlands, and 98% in the South West, North West and Yorkshire and the Humber.
The situation was bleak for younger patients, with 79 per cent of NHS practices in England not accepting new child patients.
Of those practices not taking on adults in England, 23% (1,124) said they had an open waiting list, and 16% (791) said the wait time was a year or longer, or were unable to say how long it would be.
Out of 152 local authorities in England, the researchers were unable to contact any practices accepting new adult NHS patients in 56 (37 per cent) local authorities.
The figures were released by the BBC and the British Dental Association (BDA), which urged the Government to act quickly.
‘The result of years of chronic neglect’
Shawn Charlwood, chair of the British Dental Association’s general dental practice committee, said: “NHS dentistry is at a tipping point, with millions unable to get the care they need and more dentists leaving with every day that passes.
“We’re seeing the results of years of chronic neglect, set into overdrive by the pressures of the pandemic. The question now is will ministers step up before it’s too late?
“Nothing we’ve heard from Government to date gives us any confidence this service has a future. Without real reform and fair funding NHS dentistry will die, and our patients will pay the price.”
The shortage of dentists was attributed to an NHS contract which the BDA says funds care for barely half the population.
But an NHS spokesman said its first dentistry reforms since 2006 “will support practices to improve access, including giving high-performing practices the opportunity to increase their activity and treat more patients – with discussions around further changes that benefit patients and staff still ongoing”.
Reform plans are ‘modest and marginal’
The new plan, unveiled last month, was described by the BDA as “modest and marginal” and dentist leaders said “the changes, which come without any new investment, will not address the problems patients face accessing services or keep dentists in the NHS”.
Thousands of NHS dentists have left the service since lockdown, it added, and called for an additional £880 million a year to restore funding to 2010 levels.
The health and social care select committee dubbed the contract “not fit for purpose” and called for urgent reform.
The NHS spokesman said anyone with tooth pain should contact their local dentist as usual.
“Infection prevention and control measures to protect staff and patients were introduced during the pandemic and limited the number of procedures NHS dentists could carry out,” he said.
“However, these restrictions have now been lifted enabling practices to operate at full capacity for the first time in two years, so anyone with concerns about their dental health should contact their local dentist as they usually would or seek advice from NHS 111.”