STARK regional disparities in dental provision across the country have been uncovered by the ADG in its new report ‘England’s Dental Deserts: The urgent need to “level up” access to dentistry’. Out of 106 Clinical Commissioning Groups in England, Thurrock was among the top twenty worst affected.
Brexit, Covid and contract challenges continue to drive NHS dentistry into a critical state, with ‘dental deserts’ emerging across the country. The ADG identified the top 20 most at-risk CCGs through analysis of data published in NHS Dental Statistics for England reports.
Thurrock CCG was found to be the top twenty worst affected areas, with just 44 dentists per 100,000 people. Local residents felt the impact of this lack in provision as just 26.100000000000001% of adults had seen a dentist in the past 24 months and 30.699999999999999% of children had seen a dentist in the past 12 months.
As dentists continue to leave the NHS, these figures are likely to get worse. In 2020/21, there was a drop of almost 1,000 NHS dentists in England. In 2021/22, the figure more than doubled with over 2,000 dentists leaving the NHS. With one full-time dentist providing care for around 2,000 patients, this could mean that up to 4 million patients are left without access.
For residents living in these ‘dental deserts’, there is a wide, far-reaching threat beyond the immediate impact on their dental health. Routine dental check-ups are a vital first line of defence against oral cancers and type-two diabetes as dentists are trained to spot the early warning signs of both. Early detection of mouth cancer boosts a patient’s chance of survival from 50% to 90%. Fewer dentists mean fewer available appointments where these serious diseases can be caught in their early stages.
To fix the ongoing dental crisis, the ADG proposes six key actions, known as ‘Six to Fix’:
1. Increase the number of training places in the UK
2. Continued recognition of EU trained dentists
3. Recognition of overseas qualifications
4. Simplify and speed up the process for dentists to get an NHS “performer number”
5. Allow more dental care professionals (DCPs) to initiate treatments
6. Dental system reform with new ways of working to retain staff in the NHS
Unless urgent action is taken by the Government to improve patient access in Thurrock and nationwide, these dental deserts will continue to grow, along with their subsequent health risks.
Neil Carmichael, Chair of the ADG said:
“Dental deserts not only stretch across the whole of the East of England from East Yorkshire, through Lincolnshire and down to Norfolk but are now emerging in many other ‘red wall’ constituencies that the Government wishes to ‘level up’.
“Our fears of an exodus from NHS dentistry are proving to be founded and the number of NHS dentists working in England is now at the lowest level for a decade.”
“We welcome the Government’s commitment to reform of the recruitment and registration of overseas dentists – what needs to follow is NHS dental contract reform and investment in our future domestic workforce – only when this happens will we have a chance of tackling the oral health inequalities of England.”