More than 400 dentists write to the Telegraph arguing the NHS dentistry system is ‘unfit for purpose’ as 46,400 children are admitted to hospital for tooth decay
Dental health standards are falling to “Third World” levels in parts of England because of a crisis of access to NHS treatment, more than 400 dentists claim today.
In a letter to The Telegraph, a coalition of professionals from across the country argues that the system is “unfit for purpose” with millions of people seemingly going for long periods without even seeing a dentist, or ignorant of basic dental hygiene.
The signatories accuse successive governments of hiding the problem behind a veil of spin and denial.
They point to official figures showing large numbers of primary school children having to be admitted to hospital to be treated for serious tooth decay and other dental problems, many of which, they say, could be easily prevented.
Child at dentistA third of children have not seen a dentist in two years Photo: Alamy
And they single out the launch of a new emergency treatment service for poor and vulnerable people in Dewsbury, West Yorkshire, by a charity specialising in dental aid in developing countries.
The scheme, set up last month, is the first initiative ever in the UK by Dentaid, a charity which works across parts of Africa, Asia and Central America.
The dentists argue that they are stretched increasingly thinly, struggling to meet ambitious targets to increase the numbers of patients treated amid tight constraints on budgets.
• One in seven children have not seen a dentist by the age of eight
But NHS England denied that there is a crisis, pointing to a survey which found that more than nine out of 10 people who wanted to see a dentist in the last two years got to see one.
“Far from improving, the situation has worsened to such an extent that charity groups normally associated with providing dental care in Third World arenas now have to do so in England."
Dentists' letter to The Telegraph
But separate NHS figures show that almost half the adult population of England (48 per cent) and a third (31 per cent) of children have not seen a dentist within two years.
Crucially almost 62,500 people are admitted to hospital in England per year because of tooth decay – three quarters of them, or 46,400, children.
Within the biggest age-group – those aged between five and nine years old – the numbers leapt by 14 per cent in three years to almost 26,000, estimates from the Health and Social Care Information Centre show.
“The NHS dental system in England is unfit for purpose,” the dentists wrote.
Even dentists disagree on the best brushing techniqueDentists say more education could reduce the need for treatment Photo: Alamy
“Far from improving, the situation has worsened to such an extent that charity groups normally associated with providing dental care in Third World arenas now have to do so in England.
“While we applaud groups such as Dentaid, which volunteer such services, their role serves to demonstrate the lack of a proper national dental strategy and service.
“When more than 90 per cent of all dental diseases can be prevented, it is also a disgrace that children aged under 10 in England are still more likely to be treated in hospital for rotten teeth than for any other medical reason.”
Dr Tony Kilcoyne, a specialist in prosthodontics from Haworth, West Yorks, who co-ordinated the signatures, added: “There is a massive problem here and signs of this are that vulnerable children and vulnerable adults are falling through the gaps.
“NHS dentistry is like a Cinderella within the NHS.
“There is a massive dental ignorance across the nation.”
Dr Tony Kilcoyne
“When so many problems are preventable you cannot keep ignoring this.
“It is like the can that keeps getting kicked down the road.”
Official figures show that almost 1.7 million more people in England have seen a dentist within two years than were doing so a decade ago.
But, when population growth is taken into account, the overall increase amounts to less than one per cent.
Notably, the proportion of children seeing a dentist within two years has edged lower by almost one percentage point since 2006.
The services provided by NHS dentists will vary depending on the terms of their agreement with local health authorities, with some providing a mixture of NHS and private care. NHS England said 93 per cent of people who wanted to see a dentist got to see one Photo: ALAMY
A report published last year by the Royal College of Surgeons’ Faculty of Dental Surgery described the situation as “lamentable” and suggested that simple preventative steps, such as educating children about reducing their sugar intake and the importance of brushing their teeth could be decreasing.
Dr Kilcoyne argued that the pressure will continue to increase unless dentists are freed up to spend more time on prevention by educating the public about simple steps which could reduce the risk of dental problems.
He cited the success of education and prevention initiatives by the fire service in improving fire safety.
“There is a massive dental ignorance across the nation,” he said.
He added that some dentists are so pressed to meet volume targets that they often have only a matter of seconds during appointments to get across a dental health message which could itself reduce the need for dental care.
But a spokeswoman for NHS England insisted: “These claims are wrong - more patients are getting the dental care they need, and 93 per cent of people got an NHS dental appointment when they wanted one in the last 24 months.”