Cost of living crisis forces decision between oral health and heating

11 June 2022
2 min read

"I had to choose between heating our house or saving my tooth," Melanie Fudge-Horton.

The BBC reported how the mother-of-two and carer “needed root canal and a crown, but didn't have an NHS dentist and was at the end of a long waiting list”.

The broadcaster wrote, “After being told it would cost £1,000 to save the tooth, [Melanie] paid the cheaper option of £50 to have it extracted instead.

“The Welsh government said it had allocated an additional £2m to help NHS patients access treatment.

“Melanie and husband Marc are full-time carers for their son Thomas, 24, who has Asperger's syndrome, and daughter Elphie, six, who has autism.

“Melanie called more than 20 NHS dentists near her home in Abercynon, Rhondda Cynon Taf, before considering the £1,000 private treatment.”

"With the cost of living rising there was no way I could afford it," she said.

"My family and I, we're on benefits, there's no way we have that kind of expendable income.

"So eventually I decided to have the tooth extracted for £50."

Melanie said it left her feeling "a little bit sad" and like a "victim of an unfair system".

"I feel if they have room to treat you as a paying customer, they should have room to treat you as an NHS patient," she continued.

"It definitely feels wrong and I do feel robbed, to be honest with you, because had I had access to an NHS dentist I wouldn't have had to make that choice.

"It came to a choice of saving the tooth or keeping the house lit and having a warm house, and, at the end of the day, the family comes first."

The BBC says “Melanie is one of thousands of people in Wales who are on waiting lists to get onto the books of an NHS dentist.”

It adds, “The BBC has seen a document sent by the Welsh government to dentists earlier this year which acknowledges that NHS services will not be able to meet ‘all the demand’ for dental access.

“It says patients will have to be prioritised which could mean people with ‘healthy mouth and low risk’ waiting for a check-up ‘much longer than they have been advised’ for many years.”

Meanwhile, “Hairdresser Katie-Louise Howells, from Milford Haven, does have an NHS dentist but they are unable to remove a wisdom tooth that is growing badly”, the broadcaster reports.

“Katie-Louise has two children and, in a single-income family, said there is ‘no way’ she can afford to go privately.”

"My whole side of my face was swollen, I was unable to open my mouth to eat or drink, I had jaw lock, I had earache, it affected my balance," she said.

"It put me in bed for three days, I was unable to work, it affected me being a mother to my children because I'm on my own with them."

The BBC says, “Katie-Louise has been referred to another NHS dentist for the operation to be done under general anaesthetic, but it is a two-year wait or a big private bill.”

She shared how she cannot afford it with "two children to feed as well as the living expenses of everyday life".

"I'd have to take out a loan or probably ask to borrow money just to get the problem sorted. I'm worried because I don't like the thought of being in pain."

The news report shares, “The Welsh government said the pandemic meant fewer people could be treated but now guidelines had been revised to prioritise at-risk groups and those with urgent problems.

“We have asked health boards to encourage dental practices to recall people who are overdue their routine NHS dental examination and to provide appropriate NHS treatment for all.

"The return of services will continue to be gradual and will depend on capacity within individual practices.

"We are working with the British Dental Association and the wider dental community to reform the contracting arrangements for NHS dental provision. This will enable dentists to focus on prevention, providing care for existing patients and include a need to see new NHS patients."