Shortage of NHS dentists: signs you need urgent dental care and how to get it
The majority of dental practices in the UK are not accepting NHS patients, a survey by the BBC found.
Research found that 90% of practices are not accepting new adult patients, while 80% are not accepting children.
Even for those who are registered with NHS dentists, appointments can be difficult to get. A friend of mine in London who had an appointment in June couldn’t get checked out until mid-September, which meant he had to wait two and a half months.
Another said their local NHS dentist was no longer accepting registrations and her only NHS option was to go with a dental student.
People are also taking to Twitter to complain about dental delays, with one person writing: “My annual NHS dental check in August has been canceled and the next appointment offered is December 7.
Another said: ‘I finally got a dentist to take me on as an NHS patient. The appointment isn’t until October and 35 minutes away, but after being pushed away by at least 10 other dentists, I have one foot in the door.
A third added: ‘I haven’t been able to get an appointment with the NHS dentist for over a year because nowhere I live is taking new NHS patients.’
Why aren’t dentists accepting NHS patients?
“While the pandemic has definitely had an impact, access to NHS dental care for all was highlighted as an issue long before the pandemic hit,” said dentist Dr Rhona Eskander and owner of Chelsea Dental Clinicrecount The Independent.
“At the start of the pandemic, routine NHS dental services went on hiatus and then practices introduced enhanced infection prevention and control measures to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.
“The pandemic has compounded previous problems with access to dental services, as it has resulted in reduced capacity.”
Why are there such long waits for exams?
Eskander explained that NHS dentists are “dealing with the backlog” of NHS patients from the pandemic.
She says that in March 2020 a “fallow time” was introduced, which meant rooms had to be aired between each patient. As a result, fewer patients could be seen.
Although fallow time is no longer necessary, it is still advisable to disinfect and clean the room between patients.
“Many people missed their routine checkups, which meant that reversible illnesses became irreversible,” adds Eskander.
“So the fillings turned into root canals or extractions. Illnesses have worsened and due to Covid restrictions the volume of patients that can be treated has decreased. This meant dentists had to limit the number of patients they could see.
What are your options if you have an urgent dental problem?
Eskander advises calling 111 if you have an urgent dental problem.
“The Dental Helpline continues to be an invaluable resource for those seeking advice, assistance and reassurance about their oral health and well-being,” she adds.
“It’s a real charitable service. All inquiries are completely confidential and handled promptly.
You can call the dental helpline on 01788 539 780.
10 signs and symptoms that you need urgent dental care
There are several signs that you might need urgent dental care, but Eskander said pain with or without swelling is the most urgent.
She adds that you should seek urgent dental care when:
- You have lost a tooth.
- You have a severe toothache.
- Your gums bleed and hurt.
- You have a swollen jaw.
- You have a dental abscess.
- Your canker sore is not better.
- You have constant headaches because your teeth and your head are connected.
- Your tooth has gone numb.
- You are extremely tired, which could be due to a mouth infection.
- Your mouth tastes like metal.
How can you take care of your teeth until you get a dentist appointment?
Eskander says you should brush your teeth twice a day with an electric toothbrush, and you can use an interdental aid like a WaterPik water flosser to get under your gumline.
She advises avoiding very sugary foods and suggests using mouthwash.
“When you don’t take regular care of your teeth and mouth, you can get cavities and gum disease,” she explains.
“Your teeth can decay if you don’t brush and floss them regularly to remove food scraps. If left untreated, cavities can cause dental pain, infect your teeth, and even lead to tooth loss.
“Gum disease occurs when plaque builds up along the gum line. Gum disease is an infection of the tissue that supports your teeth. This can cause teeth to loosen over time. There is also evidence that gum disease is linked to heart disease.