The shortage of NHS dentists is biting hard in East Devon, where it seems that no surgeries are taking on new NHS patients.

The NHS ‘Find a Dentist’ website lists several practices in the district, but the latest information for each surgery – updated in July 2023 – states that no new NHS patients are being accepted. A phone call to those that had not given up-to-date information confirmed that they were in the same position.

Nationally, research published in July by the British Dental Association indicated that more than 12 million people are unable to access dentistry on the NHS. The number is nearly three times pre-pandemic totals.

What can be done?

In mid-July the parliamentary Health and Social Care Committee published a report describing a ‘crisis of access in NHS dentistry’. It set out recommendations including a fundamentally reformed contract for NHS dentists. The current contract was introduced in 2006; it was heavily criticised by dentists, patient groups and public health specialists at the time, and is generally felt to be unfit for purpose.

The British Dental Association welcomed the committee’s recommendations as ‘a blueprint to save NHS dentistry’ and has urged the Government to implement them as soon as possible.

'We need ministers to get a grip'

The MP for Tiverton & Honiton, Richard Foord, said: "The fact that no dentist in East Devon is accepting new NHS patients shows that the Government’s promise to ‘fix’ the dental crisis gripping our communities was nothing more than empty words.

“For too long, NHS dental services in rural areas like ours have been overstretched, leaving people living in pain. Some have resorted to removing their own teeth at home; others pay huge sums to access urgent treatment.

“I’ve had several people contact me with stories of cancelled appointments, delayed check-ups, and preventable problems going untreated because there simply aren’t any appointments available.

“Hardworking dentists are doing what they can, but the situation they face is incredibly challenging giving rising costs and a growing number of dentists retiring.

“We need ministers to get a grip and act swiftly to stop the decay of dental services - starting with meaningful NHS dental contract reform to boost the number of appointments and ensure that work pays dentists fairly."

What Devon's NHS says

Meanwhile, the local NHS says it’s doing what it can. A spokesperson for NHS Devon said: “In Devon, as it is across the country, the pressure on NHS primary care dental teams is severe, with workforce shortages, high demand and a backlog to address. The NHS is working hard to improve the situation for residents. We are working with local dentists to enable practices to take on more NHS patients.”

Anyone who has a dental emergency and cannot access an NHS practitioner is advised to contact NHS 111 for an urgent appointment.