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Twin crisis of access and affordability calls for a radical rethink of NHS dentistry

24/05/2021

A dentist with a blue mask treating a patient in the chair

New data indicates the dental crisis shows no signs of slowing, with four in five people (80%) struggling to access timely care during the last COVID-19 lockdown.

 

 

Access to NHS dental care continues to be a problem for people across England, with Healthwatch recording a 22% rise in calls and complaints about dentistry between January and March 2021.   

Our review of 1,375 people’s experiences shared with Healthwatch found a lack of consistency across the country when it comes to accessing a dental appointment. Whilst some people were asked to wait an unreasonable time of up to three years for an NHS appointment, those able to afford private care could get an appointment within a week. 

High cost of dental care

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

But private treatment is not an option for everyone, with many people now struggling to pay even for NHS treatment. 

A poll of 2,019 adults commissioned by us found 61% of respondents felt that NHS dental treatments were expensive1

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 (27%) of respondents said they either struggle to pay or avoid dental treatments altogether because they cannot afford the costs.  
  • About one in three (30%) have reported they felt pressured into paying private fees to get all the dental treatment they needed. And nearly two in five (39%) reported that they had been charged extra for their NHS treatments.  
  • Almost a quarter (23%) feel they will now visit the dentist only when they need treatment, 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. 

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