'Dental disaster' forces patient to try to extract own teeth
- Credit: PA
A frustrated patient in desperate pain from an abscess was driven to trying to extract their own teeth - because of growing problems trying to find an NHS dentist.
Towns such as Leiston have seen their NHS dental provision disappear in recent months, with the town losing its mydentist and Bupa practices in the space of a year.
That sparked concerns that many patients are being left in "severe pain" as they struggle to find treatment, with hundreds signing a petition calling for a return for NHS dental services in the town.
But problems which already existed before the pandemic now seem to be spreading ever deeper across Suffolk, with county MPs saying the number of letters they are receiving about the issue is increasing.
One elderly person contacted this newspaper to say: "All surgeries I have contacted in Ipswich, Hadleigh, Stowmarket, Needham Market and Woodbridge are not currently accepting new NHS patients.
"I am a pensioner on Pension Credit, which theoretically entitles me to free dental treatment under the NHS.
"My weekly income is £160, so I'm hardly in a position to pay for private treatment."
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And Andy Yacoub, chief executive of Healthwatch Suffolk, said: "There is huge inequality in the availability of NHS dental care amongst our population, with little sign of improvement among those who have shared their feedback with us.
"The fact is, we are continuing to face a dental disaster and it is unquestionably time for a complete re-think of dental care.
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“We hear daily from people struggling to access the support and treatment they, or their children and family, need.
"One person recently told us that, whilst suffering severe pain with an abscess and swollen jaw, they had been unable to source treatment which had led them to unsuccessfully attempt to extract the tooth themselves and then to source private treatment.
"With stories like this in mind, we are concerned about the long-term impact of lack of access to treatment on communities that we know are the most likely to be excluded from treatment and support.
“Sadly, none of these warning signs are new.
"Over time, we’ve seen a number of dentists in our county shut down or transition into full private practice, leaving thousands of people with no access to local dental care."
A Department for Health and Social Care spokesman said: “All dental practices have been able to deliver their full range of face-to-face care since last June, with over 700 practices providing additional urgent dental treatment.
“Patients facing difficulties accessing a dentist can speak to the NHS and those requiring access to urgent treatment should contact NHS 111.
“We are committed to addressing dental staffing challenges by exploring additional opportunities for dental training, improving staff retention and encouraging more skilled overseas dental staff to work in the NHS.”
Ipswich MP Tom Hunt said he personally had also struggled to access NHS dentists over the past few years.
He urged the government to "urgently address" the wider problems, saying: "Dental health should not be about your ability to pay.
"People who aren't able and can't afford to pay for private treatment shouldn't be suffering.
"I have concerns that many of my constituents could be suffering as a result of this.
"It's not just me getting correspondence about it. It's every MP."
Mr Hunt acknowledged that the health service is under pressure, adding that the coronavirus pandemic has exacerbated many existing problems.
But he said it was the job of government to look into why it is a growing problem - whether it be a lack of funding or a shortage of dentists.
Central Suffolk and North Ipswich MP Dr Dan Poulter said he had been in touch directly with the new head of NHS England, Amanda Pritchard, to "ask that this issue is tackled as a matter of priority".
He added: “I’ve been contacted by a growing number of residents, all of whom are expressing their concern and frustration at the difficulties they are encountering when trying to access NHS dental services here in Suffolk.
"Whilst it’s fair to acknowledge that the Covid pandemic undoubtedly impacted dental services, we should now be in a position where services are returning to normal and patients, of course, have the right to access NHS dental treatment.
“I share the concerns of residents and have been pressing this issue for some time now.
"I am growing increasingly frustrated at the lack of progress being made."