More than one in five Britons are currently not signed up with a dentist, according to a YouGov poll which revealed some people are even extracting their own teeth and attempting root canal treatment.
Patients across England, Scotland and Wales have shared desperate experiences in a survey that gives new insights into the unfolding crisis in dentistry. A growing number of towns and cities across the country have no access to NHS dentistry for new patients as people linger on lengthy waiting lists, the poll revealed.
Some 22 per cent are currently not on the books of a dentist practice with the results showing that the majority of those are unable to access, or afford, treatment. More than a third (37 per cent) said it is because they cannot find an NHS dentist to take them on, with a further 5 per cent on a waiting list. Another 23 per cent say they are not signed up because they do not think they can afford to be treated.
There is no need to register with a dentist in the same way as with a GP because patients are not bound to a catchment area. The NHS recommends finding a dental surgery that is convenient, such as near home or work, and to phone them to see if there are any appointments available.
Among the most concerning consequences of Britain’s growing dental deserts is the willingness of some to attempt procedures they need but cannot get, the findings also reveal. One in ten Britons (10 per cent) admit to attempting their own dental work, with most doing so because they were unable, one way or another, to get an appointment with a dentist.
Of those who say they have tried to perform dentistry on themselves, a majority (56 per cent) did so within the last two years, including 36 per cent who did it within the last year. Overall, that means 6 per cent of Britons said they have tried their hand at doing their own dental work within the last two years.
The survey revealed cases of people using cement and superglue to fix crowns and dentures, killing an infection with urine, using “heated polybeads” to replace a missing tooth and applying chemical metal – an adhesive usually used for household or outdoor repairs – as a filling.
A third (34 per cent) of those who revealed what kind of dental work they had attempted said they pulled out – or tried to pull out – their own teeth A similar proportion (32 per cent) gave themselves fillings, while others removed or repaired crowns (4 per cent), tried their hand at a scale and polish (4 per cent), filed their broken teeth down (3 per cent) or treated their own abscesses and infections (3 per cent).
One in five of those who attempted a procedure did so because they could not get a timely appointment, with an additional 15 per cent saying Covid-related lockdowns prevented them from getting one. And 18 per cent of Britons who tried their hand at dentistry said they did it because they could not get registered with a dentist. Among other reasons cited were fear of going to the dentist (14 per cent) and an inability to pay for treatment (14 per cent).
British Dental Association Chair Eddie Crouch told i: “From the patients attempting DIY dentistry, to those who’ve given up even trying to get an appointment, these numbers show a service approaching the end of the road. Both Government and opposition need a clear plan to reform and properly fund NHS dentistry. Failing that, they may as well get started on writing its obituary.”
The Department of Health and Social Care has been approached for comment.
The YouGov findings come as the Health Committee continues its inquiry into NHS dentistry on Tuesday. It follows a survey that showed 90 per cent of practices across the UK were not accepting new adult NHS patients. MPs will consider to what extent the current NHS dental contract disincentivises dentists from taking on new patients.
The continuing poor state of children’s teeth is expected to be highlighted once again on Thursday when the Office for Health Improvement and Disparities publishes its latest biennial oral health survey of five-year-old children in England. In submitted written evidence to the Health Committee’s inquiry, Healthwatch England said it had heard of some children who had never seen a dentist “due to the poor access to NHS dentistry”.