Three in 10 Brits can’t access an NHS dentist

18 January 2022
3 min read

Despite the hard work of dental teams during the pandemic, nearly a third (30 per cent) of people in the UK haven’t been able to access an NHS dentist in the past year, a new report reveals.

The Great British Oral Health Report – which combines a public attitudes survey with national data – found that 53 per cent of people had not seen a dentist in the last year, with 56 per cent of those who hadn’t reporting that this was because they weren’t able to get access.

Some 28 per cent of those who had not been for a check-up within the last year could not get an appointment with their usual dentist, 14 per cent said they were unable to register for a routine check-up with an NHS dentist, 16 per cent were unable to afford care, three per cent were unable to travel to a dentist, and five per cent could not get an appointment because their usual practice had closed.

Nearly three fifths (58 per cent) of people think it has become more difficult to visit an NHS dentist now compared to a decade ago, with four in 10 stating it has been much more difficult.

The report suggests that, although demand for dentists is high and NHS dental teams have been working continuously during the pandemic to improve access to care for patients, there aren’t enough dentists in the UK to fill the current vacancies. When informed of the shortage of UK dentists, 78 per cent of respondents support bringing in highly skilled dentists from outside the UK to help fill this gap and meet demand for NHS dentists.

The Great British Oral Health Report is produced by {my}dentist, the UK’s largest provider of NHS dentistry, in collaboration with YouGov. It combines a new national online survey of 2,026 people from across England, Scotland and Wales, with the latest published evidence in the dental sector.

The majority (84 per cent) of respondents said urgent dentistry services (e.g. emergency tooth extraction) should be a high priority for the NHS.

Almost a fifth (19 per cent) of the respondents reported they have had to perform “DIY dentistry”, such as temporary home fillings kits (three per cent), painkillers (13 per cent) or teeth removals (one per cent), as the current system meant they could not see a dentist.

There is also significant variation in access to dentists between the devolved nations and within countries:

  • The report revealed that nine per cent more people were able to access routine NHS dentistry in the South of England compared to the North over the past year. People in the North East were most likely to have not been to the dentist in over 10 years compared to other parts of England, and are twice as likely to have used a DIY temporary filling kit (six per cent) than the national average (three per cent).
  • People in the South West who have been to the dentist for a routine check-up within the last year are most likely to live more than five miles away from a dentist (33 per cent), and when they do go to the dentist, are most likely to receive treatment privately.
  • In England and Scotland more than 40 per cent of respondents said they had a routine check-up within the past year, whereas in Wales not even a third of respondents claimed the same (31 per cent).
  • Data from Public Health England, referenced in the report, also suggests that there is a deep deprivation divide in dental health, with the proportion of children with dental decay in the most deprived communities being 3.8 times higher than the least deprived areas.

Tom Riall, chief executive of {my}dentist, said, “Despite the heroic hard work of dentists across the country, access to NHS dentistry is facing real challenges and the problem will only get worse unless action is taken now. This report shines a light on the difficulties facing NHS dentistry, both as a result of the pandemic and of a longstanding shortage of NHS dentists, particularly in the South West, East Anglia and the North of England.

“We support the government and the NHS in seeking to increase treatments for patients – but there has to be the dental workforce in place, with the right support, to deliver it. Making it easier for highly-skilled dentists from across the Commonwealth to practise dentistry in the UK will make a huge difference to reducing oral health inequalities and levelling up access for patients who need it most.”