Recent experiences accessing a dentist: ‘I was told I was close to not making it’

28 February 2022
2 min read

The Mail on Sunday recently asked its readers to share their experiences accessing a dentist, and described the responses they received as ‘horror stories’.

Tony Harvey, from Pwllheli in Gwynedd, North Wales, told the publication how he “nearly died after developing sepsis from untreated tooth infections”.

He explained, “I repeatedly made dental appointments which were six months in the future, then a couple of weeks beforehand they'd be cancelled.

“A month ago I collapsed and spent eight days in hospital. They found a large abscess under two of my teeth.

“The pain was masked because I take strong painkillers for another medical condition. I was told I was close to not making it.”

Meanwhile, “Janett Thornalley from Alford, Lincolnshire, was told by her dental practice that she had 'lost her NHS status' after not making appointments while self-isolating during the worst of the pandemic.

“The 82-year-old, who lives alone, was told she could still be seen – if she paid privately.”

“I certainly wasn't paying them after being so let down, and as a single pensioner I have to be careful with my expenditure,” she said. 

“Goodness knows how many more have been caught in this disgraceful trap,” she added.

They also received a response from a 42-year-old in Cambridgeshire, who had phoned NHS 111 in agony with a persistent abscess in her jaw, which had caused her neck to swell. 

“The call-handler said it was an emergency and she had to be seen within 12 hours because of the risk of sepsis. 

“But despite calling about 20 dental practices – none of which was taking new patients – she was forced to pay nearly £500 to see a private dentist 16 miles away. 

The woman wrote, “They said they'd had a lot of these calls, and that my only option was to just ring around or pay privately.

“I've been told my kids will have to wait three years for a check-up. 

“My own follow-up appointment was cancelled the day before and the practice said seven dentists had just left – so, even privately, I'll have to wait five months for them to investigate a "shadow" the X-ray found in my jaw.”

However, the publication did provide a dentist’s perspective on the lack of NHS care patients are currently facing. They explained issues such as these are arising because practices often have no spare NHS capacity.

The article expanded on this, explaining, “As independent contractors, each has a quota of NHS procedures they can be paid for. Once they hit this quota, they will not be paid for any extra NHS work.”

The dentist, who runs a large practice in the North West mainly treating NHS patients, said, “The covid backlog means people are turning up with more severe problems, which take longer to address, but the way our contract works means we get paid the same whether we give that person one filling or ten. 

“New patients generally require more work, so you can see why some practices don't want to take them on – they're not cost-effective.

“With more complex cases we can fit in fewer bookings, we're being paid less overall, and because dentists are leaving there are fewer of us to do the work.

“That's why there are problems accessing care.

“People think we charge privately to make more money, but if we don't we can't keep our businesses afloat – there would be no dentists left.

“The vast majority of dentists leave to run private clinics not for the money, but because there are no targets, no quotas and they can spend longer with patients.”