Scenes outside a newly opened NHS dental surgery in Bristol have highlighted the desperation faced by Brits up and down the country, who for years have struggled to get an appointment
For the third day running, hundreds of prospective patients have lined up outside Saint Paul’s Dental Practice from the early hours, hoping to secure a precious spot on their books. This comes as the Mirror launches a new petition demanding that everyone can access NHS dentistry after a new Government rescue plan was blasted for being woefully insufficient.
The queue in Bristol starkly illustrates the sad state of NHS dentistry in Britain, where many have felt forced into attempting DIY dentistry to alleviate their pain. Speaking previously with the Mirror, photographer Ferdi, opened up about the ‘excruciating’ pain he endured while extracting five of his own teeth over the course of an agonising two-year period.
The 51-year-old, who holds a PhD in political philosophy, was unable to find an NHS dentist within a 25-mile radius of his home city of Wakefield. After his tooth pain became unbearable, he made the grim decision to take action into his own hands.
Although Ferdi tried to seek private dental treatment to fix his mouth, the quote of £16,000 proved to far exceed what he could afford. Ferdi first tried DIY dentistry at the start of the pandemic, when he discovered he wouldn’t even be able to see an emergency dentist.
By this point, Ferdi felt as though he was ‘teetering on the edge of like insanity due to sleep deprivation’, and made the painful decision to remove the problem tooth himself, using a pair of everyday household pliers.
Ferdi said: “I grabbed hold of it and started to pull. Oh my God, the pain. The pain was just excruciating. It just went all across the side of my face in absolute agony. I thought, ‘Just keep pulling. Keep pulling’.
“So I kept pulling and it was just agony. But then I could hear the bones cracking, and then it just came out.
“The relief from just having been in absolute agony, pulling it out, the relief was just phenomenal. And there’s blood everywhere. It was a mess. And I was like, ‘Well, I hope I never have to do that again’.”
Unfortunately, Ferdi ended up performing a further four tooth extractions on himself. The first ones were at the back, but the more recent ones were at the front, leaving him with a considerable gap that he compares to that of ‘a ten-year-old’.
Unable to afford treatment for dentures, Ferdi, who is currently receiving benefits, now has to live with large gaps in his teeth. He says he’s no longer in pain, but the loss has made everyday activities such as eating very difficult.
Ferdi continued: “My teeth are staggered now. There’s not one tooth on top on top of another tooth, they’re kind of staggered. So I can’t chew on anything.
“I’m having to chew my food using my teeth, which obviously is not a good idea. I mean, your two front teeth are not designed for chewing, but that’s what I’m having do, and it’s just a nightmare.”
Fortunately, Ferdi says he isn’t currently in any pain, while his remaining teeth feel ‘pretty solid’. However, he says his mouth is now a ‘complete mess’, and ‘not fit for purpose’.
He’s still looking for a dentist to help him, but can’t find one within a 30-mile radius. He has previously tried to find a private dentist, but realised this just wouldn’t be doable after he was quoted £16,000.
West Yorkshire is known to have been an access hotspot for some time, however, the pressures of the pandemic have seen the situation worsen, affecting many areas of the country.
Recent BBC research has found that nine out of 10 practices are unable to take on new adult NHS patients, with Wakefield being among the worst access points anywhere in England, with 97 per cent of practices not taking on any new adult patients.
The British Dental Association (BDA) says it would take an extra £880 million a year simply to restore resources to 2010 levels, and believes government objectives to improve both access and retention cannot feasibly be achieved within the financial constraints set by the current Treasury.
A new recovery plan for NHS dentistry has attracted criticism from experts, with the BDA arguing that the £200 million pledged by the government makes up under half of the underspends in the budget expected this year, meaning there will be no new money available for the new patient premium that was promised.
Save NHS Dentistry petition
Sign our petition to save NHS dentistry and make it fit for the 21st century
Our 3 demands
Everyone should have access to an NHS dentist
More than 12 million people were unable to access NHS dental care last year – more than 1 in 4 adults in England. At the same time 90% of dental practices are no longer accepting new NHS adult patients. Data from the House of Commons Library showed 40% of children didn’t have their recommended annual check-up last year.
Restore funding for dental services and recruit more NHS dentists
The UK spends the smallest proportion of its heath budget on dental care of any European nation. Government spending on dental services in England was cut by a quarter in real terms between 2010 and 2020. The number of NHS dentists is down by more than 500 to 24,151 since the pandemic.
Change the contracts
A Parliamentary report by the Health Select Committee has branded the current NHS dentists’ contracts as “not fit for purpose” and described the state of the service as “unacceptable in the 21st century”. The system effectively sets quotas on the maximum number of NHS patients a dentist can see as it caps the number of procedures they can perform each year. Dentists also get paid the same for delivering three or 20 fillings, often leaving them out of pocket. The system should be changed so it enables dentists to treat on the basis of patient need.
Have you had to resort to drastic measures because you couldn’t access an NHS dentist? Are you a parent struggling to get an appointment for a child? Email [email protected] or call 0800 282591
In a recent post on their website, the BDA described the current state of UK dentistry as ‘Victorian’. revealing that ‘the UK lags behind both Ukraine and Rwanda in terms of timely access to care – so behind both developing countries and war zones’. Expressing outrage at ‘the real price of government indifference’, the post continues: “Three-year-olds with dental sepsis. An epidemic of DIY dentistry. The return of scurvy. Our recent surveys show over eight in 10 dentists have treated patients who’ve undertaken some form of ‘DIY’ dental work since lockdown. It’s a national disgrace. Ministers need to take some responsibility.
“A wealthy 21st Century nation is slipping back to the Victorian era on their watch. The Government keeps saying it wants everyone to be able to access NHS dentistry. But there’s no sign of a credible plan to make that a reality, and no willingness to break from the failed contract.”
British Dental Association Chair Eddie Crouch said: “DIY dentistry has no place in a wealthy, 21st-century nation, but today millions have no options, and some are taking matters into their own hands.
“These access problems are not inevitable. This horror show is the direct result of choices made in Westminster. We’ve heard promises of change, but any progress requires action on a decade of underfunding and failed contracts.”
Furthermore, Ferdi’s story does not appear to be a one-off incident. According to stats published by YouGov in March 2023, one in ten Brits admitted to having carried out dental work on themselves, with the majority doing so because they were unable to get an appointment.
An NHS spokesperson told the Mirror: “Infection prevention and control measures introduced during the pandemic to protect staff and patients have now been lifted so dental teams can operate at full capacity for the first time in two years.
“Anyone with concerns about their dental health should contact their local dentist as they usually would or seek advice from NHS 111.”
Joining forces with the BDA to launch a petition on the 38 Degrees website, the Mirror has called upon Prime Minister Rishi Sunak to ‘save NHS dentistry and make it fit for the 21st century’, ensuring adequate funding. We also want to scrap the failed contracts currently pushing dentists out of the NHS, rebuilding a service with a focus on prevention.
The Mirror has contacted the Department of Health & Social Care for comment.
Sign our petition HERE to save NHS dentistry and make it fit for the 21st century
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