‘Dental deserts’ leave just one NHS dentist per 16,000 people in parts of country

Portrait of female dentist examining woman's teeth at dental clinic
Portrait of female dentist examining woman's teeth at dental clinic

“Dental deserts” have left just one NHS dentist per 16,000 people in some parts of the country.

Analysis reveals growing shortages - particularly in rural areas - since the pandemic.

The figures show that on average, there is now one NHS dentist per 6,849 people in England - down from one per 6,667 in 2019.

Even in the areas with the most NHS dentists, there is less than one NHS dentist per 1,000 people.

Ashfield in Nottinghamshire has the lowest number of dentists, with just one per 16,129 people, the data from July to September shows.

Selby in North Yorkshire and Tamworth in Staffordshire are next lowest, with one per 15,385, followed by Mid Suffolk, with one per 14,925,  Ryedale in North Yorkshire with one per 13,889 while Chelmsford in Essex and East Cambridgeshire both have one per 12,821, and South Derbyshire has one per 12,195.

The areas with the most NHS dentists for their population are almost all in London, and surrounding counties. The City of London fairs best with one per 1,215, while Westminster, Kensington and Chelsea and Hammersmith and Fulham all near the top of the list.

The new analysis of data, collected by the Care Quality Commission (CQC) and published as a rate per 1,000 residents on the LGA’s data platform, shows no local authority area in the country has more than one dentist providing NHS treatment per 1,000 people.

It comes amid growing concerns about the state of NHS dentistry.

‘DIY dentistry’

Last month a poll found that one in five people who cannot get an appointment with a dentist have turned to “DIY dentistry”.

Research by the Liberal Democrats reveals widespread shortages of dentists, with patients forced to take matters into their own hands.

Polling of 2,200 adults found that 533 had tried and failed to secure appointments in the last 12 months, with the worst difficulties in London and the South East.

Of those, 21 per cent carried out their own dental work or asked someone who was not a dentist to do so. The LGA, which represents more than 350 councils in England and Wales, said the Government must address shortages in NHS dentistry.

Councils are in charge of running programmes to promote good oral health and prevent problems, particularly among children, while NHS dentists are commissioned by NHS England.

The LGA said the public health grant for councils to help provide its service has been cut by 24 per cent in real terms since 2015/16, equivalent to a total reduction of £1 billion.

Calls for reforms

Councillor David Fothergill, the chairman of the LGA’s community wellbeing board, said: “This stark new analysis shows a shortage in affordable dental treatments for communities all over the country.

“In particular, it is concerning that it is rural areas as well as those living with the highest levels of deprivation that are more likely to miss out on NHS dental provision.

“As we continue to feel the effect of the cost of living crisis, a lack of NHS dentists could risk people choosing to forgo routine dental treatments or even resort to DIY dentistry, risking more costly emergency dental treatments being needed further down the line,” he said.

The LGA called for reforms of dental contracts, and a real terms increase to public health grants for councils.

Eddie Crouch, the chairman of the British Dental Association, said: “The Government must be more ambitious in its plans to reform NHS dentistry.

“To save this service we need real commitment – root-and-branch reform and adequate funding.

“A broken contract is forcing dentists out of the NHS every day it remains in force. Tinkering at the margins will do nothing to help the patients who need us most.”

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesman said: “The Health and Social Care Secretary has set out her priorities of A, B, C and D, which includes dentists, and our Plan for Patients sets out how we will help more people to access NHS dental treatment – already backed by more than £3 billion annually.”