The number of children needing tooth extractions in hospitals has jumped to 48,000 last year as experts warned that the shortage of NHS dentists is creating misery for patients
Children needing tooth extractions in hospitals has jumped to 48,000 last year.
Teeth removals for under-18s of multiple teeth surged by 17% amid a collapse in access to NHS dentists. Two thirds of extractions were due to tooth decay meaning there were 119 operations a day to remove rotten teeth in children.
Youngsters in poorer areas, which are less likely to have an NHS dentist, were three and a half more likely to require hospital extractions. It comes as 70% of dental surgeries now refuse to accept under-18s as new NHS patients.
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David Fothergill, board chairman of the Local Government Association, which compiled the data for England, said: “These stark figures reveal that a lack of access to affordable dentistry is having a worrying impact on the state of children’s teeth. Untreated dental care remains one of the most prevalent diseases affecting children and young people’s ability to speak, eat, play and socialise.”
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Hospital admissions for childhood tooth extractions cost NHS hospitals £64.3 million last year. Tooth decay remains the most common reason for youngsters aged five to nine being admitted to hospital.
The data also showed regional disparities in decay-related extractions, with Yorkshire and the Humber reporting 405 cases per 100,000 children – the highest figure – and the East Midlands 80 per 100,000 – the lowest. It comes after the Tories NHS dentistry “rescue plan” was lambasted for failing to reform the flawed payment contract and coming with no new funding.
Eddie Crouch, chair of the British Dental Association, said: “The oral health gap is widening for our youngest patients, and it won’t be halted by holding another consultation.”
The plan for dentistry includes a New Patient Premium for dentists to receive a bonus of between £15 and £50 for treating someone who has not had a check up for two years. The minimum amount paid to dentists for NHS treatments will also rise from £23 to £28.
However only 900 of the 8,000 practices in England are not currently getting a £28 minimum so a minority of practices will benefit from the uplift. The plan states “around 240 NHS dentists” will also be paid a £20,000 ‘golden hello’ to work in under-served areas for three years.
The plan aims to increase UK dentist training places by 40% which could boost the workforce from mid-2030. A consultation will begin on adding fluoride to water systems to help strengthen enamel, starting in North East England.
Crucially, it is unclear whether the NHS dentistry budget will be increased. It has flatlined at around £3 billion for the last decade which after inflation has meant a real terms cut of around £1 billion. Speaking to broadcasters during a visit on Thursday, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak tried to blame the collapse in access to NHS dentists on Covid-19.
He said: “It hasn’t been easy enough for people to access NHS dentistry over the past couple of years, particularly as a result of the impact of the pandemic which hit dentistry services harder than almost anything else because they were the hardest things to continue in any form during Covid.
“The announcements this week will make a significant difference and quickly. Two and a half million more NHS appointments to get levels back up to where they were pre Covid, attracting dentists to work in underserved areas. This will be particularly valuable in areas like the South West where I am today. Mobile vans going into underserved communities as well. Taken together, it’s a very significant new investment in dentistry so that everyone can get the access that they need.”
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