Some who have managed to find a dentist are facing a two year waiting list or are not classed as needing urgent treatment despite being in constant pain.
Healthwatch says since the first lockdown in March 2020, one in four calls and emails it receives are about this topic.
It says in a report: “We are still hearing from people each week who are finding it impossible to access an NHS dentist, whether for routine treatment or more urgent care.
“We know dentists have been trying to treat patients where they can, and there are systems in place which aim to support people to access urgent care.
The expectation from NHS England is that dental practices should be delivering 85 per cent of the treatment they’re contracted to do.
“However, the feedback we hear does not seem to reflect this. The impact on people who have been trying to access dental care has been significant, and we know the many people have been left distressed and in pain.”
Dental patients’ stories
Pam needs to have dentures fitted but dental practices won’t even put her on a waiting list. There seems to be a blanket policy that dentures aren’t ‘urgent’.
Pam said “I can’t eat or talk property. I can’t afford to go private and it is affecting my mental health.”
Kiera called all the dentists in Sheffield who said they were accepting new NHS patients online, but found this didn’t actually mean she could get an appointment – they offered to put her on a waiting list which would be two years long or more.
David needs to see a dentist, but all the ones he calls say they can only offer him private treatment. He is currently unemployed and doesn’t have the money: “It’s more than £200 and I don’t even have that in my bank account right now.
Esi needs her wisdom teeth removing as they are causing constant pain. However, the dentists she called said this wasn’t serious enough to require ‘urgent’ care and she will have to manage with pain medication despite the pain keeping her awake at night.
Jo can’t even get onto a waiting list for an NHS dentist and is worried smaller issues will become worse.
“I have called upwards of 30 dentists which online say they are taking on NHS patients and literally none of them are.”
Hundreds more appointments created
Debbie Stovin, dental commissioning manager for NHS England, said: “We do have issues with access to dentistry, they are not back in the normal world yet.
“We are still experiencing waiting lists for people who want routine care, the focus is still very much on urgent care and dealing with vulnerable patients.”
She said funding had improved access and increase dental appointment availability for both examinations and treatment.
In Sheffield this has provided between 600 and 900 additional urgent care and subsequent appointments for patients across six practices.