Dental deserts force three in 10 Brits to take time off for toothache

Dental deserts force three in 10 Brits to take time off for toothache, survey reveals

  • 7% of people forced to take time off with toothache were off work for over a week
  • READ MORE: Dentist hits out at crisis after patient is diagnosed with oral cancer 

A third of Brits have been forced to take time off work with tooth pain after being unable to see a dentist, a survey suggests. 

A poll of more than 5,000 Brits by health insurance company Simplyhealth found 28 per cent had taken sick leave due to a toothache. 

Of these, seven per cent were in such severe pain they had to take a week off. 

If extrapolated to the rest of the population, this is equivalent to the UK losing 23million sick days a year, according to the company.

Meanwhile, 12 per cent of Brits were struggling in a so-called dental desert, unable to book an appointment with an NHS dentist, the survey revealed.

A survey suggests about a third of Brits have been forced to take time off work with tooth pain after being unable to see a dentist (stock image)

Only 43 per cent of over-18s were seen by a dentist in the 24 months to June this year, compared to more than half in the same period before the pandemic struck

Brits were also worried about the cost of going private, with one in 10 saying they no longer go to a dentist due to being unable to afford treatment.

Simplyhealth clinical director Dr Catherine Rutland, said the findings show ‘dental care provision in the UK is far behind where it should be’.

The survey, conducted between June and July this year, adds further evidence to Brits’ dental woes. 

A recent Health and Social Care Committee inquiry described the state of the NHS dental service as ‘totally unacceptable in the 21st century’. 

Last month, official NHS figures showed less than half of adults in England have seen a dentist within the past two years.

How much does NHS dentistry cost?

There are 3 NHS charge bands:

Band 1: £23.80

Covers an examination, diagnosis and advice. If necessary, it also includes X-rays, a scale and polish, and planning for further treatment.

Band 2: £65.20

Covers all treatment included in Band 1, plus additional treatment, such as fillings, root canal treatment and removing teeth (extractions).

Band 3: £282.80

Covers all treatment included in Bands 1 and 2, plus more complex procedures, such as crowns, dentures and bridges.

For comparison, check-ups can cost between £20 and £120 at private dentists, according to Which?.

Dentures and bridges can also cost up to £2,520, the consumer watchdog says.

It means 3.8million fewer adults had their teeth checked by an NHS dentist compared to pre-Covid levels.

Some regions are also being hit harder than others. 

Earlier this year, MailOnline analysis of England’s ‘dental deserts’ found some areas only have one dental practice offering NHS treatments for every 13,000 people.

Experts have repeatedly warned that the difficulties accessing NHS dentists could see people forgo vital treatment or resort to DIY dentistry — risking more costly care down the line.

There have also been fears of cases of oral cancers, which are often spotted by dentists in the earliest stages during routine check-ups, being missed.

Dentists have reported seeing patients who have struggled to get appointments with the disease, warning ‘people are going to die because of this’.

The crisis has also seen Brits resorting to DIY dentistry, flying aboard for treatment, or going without care due to being unable to afford expensive private dental fees.

Those few dentists taking on new NHS patients have been overwhelmed, with some recording 100-strong queues and nearly 30,000 phone calls for just a few dozen places.

The British Dental Association recently warned such scenes could become ‘the new normal’. 

Last year a joint-investigation between the BBC and British Dental Association found a whopping 90 per cent of NHS dental practices were unable to offer any appointments to new adult patients. 

NHS dentistry has been in crisis for many years, with industry leaders claiming the sector has been chronically underfunded making it financially unviable to carry out treatments.

Overall, 18.1million adults saw their dentist in the two years to June 2023, up from 16.4million in the 24 months to June 2022. But it is still well below the 21million seen in the two years to June 2020

This chart shows the number of dentists who carried out NHS activity each year, the figure dropped sharply during the Covid pandemic but has slightly recovered to just over 24,000 according to the latest data

One of the key issues is that under a previous controversial contract NHS dentists were paid per job, rather than for the amount of work required.

This effectively meant they got the same funding for a patient needing one filling as they would for a patient needing three, despite the latter taking much longer.

This combined with the poorer pay compared to the lucrative private sector, long working hours and the stress of burnout as led them to flee the health service, dental bodies have claimed.

While the dental contract was recently reformed as part of Government efforts to boost access to NHS dentistry, industry bodies say these have failed to go far enough.

Exacerbating the problem is that, as more dentists leave the NHS, those that remain become swamped by more and more patients, resulting in a domino effect.

The crisis prompted Prime Minister Rishi Sunak to earlier this year reveal that British dentists could be forced to work for NHS for years after finishing their studies.

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