NHS dentist shortage and rising costs are driving people to blu tack fillings and pulling teeth with pliers

Desperate people affected by the double whammy of struggling to find an NHS dentist and being unable to afford treatment due to the cost of living crisis are resorting to yanking out their teeth with pliers and filling cavities with blu tack, i can reveal.

One NHS nurse described how she struggled to find an NHS dentist after breaking a tooth and then attempted to extract it herself using pliers.

The failed attempt led to her having to pay hundreds of pounds for private treatment and she is now working overtime to pay off the debt and is haunted by nightmares.

There are fears that rising living costs on top of the crisis already affecting NHS dentistry will mean more people will cut back on regular dental appointments or resort to drastic DIY measures, as they simply can’t afford treatment.

Nicola, a part-time nurse in Sussex, broke an upper premolar tooth and was unable to find an NHS dentist to repair it. “The break was severe and sharp and I had to resort to buying a pair of long-nose pliers to try and extract the tooth,” she said.

“My attempts failed and I only succeeded in breaking the tooth even more. Eventually, I had to go to a private dentist for repair which set me back £650, which as a part-time nurse, I can’t afford.

“Since then, I have been having nightmares. A recurring dream since the plier incident involves me spitting out crumbling fragments of teeth with mouthfuls of blood.

“I am working overtime every weekend now to repay the credit card that I had to use to pay the private dentist.”

She added: “The spiralling cost of living is creating a two-tier healthcare system in this country with the vulnerable and lower-income families suffering physically and mentally.”

There are fears the cost of living crisis on top of the shortge of NHS dentists will mean more people will cut back on regular dental appointments or resort to drastic DIY measures as they simply can’t afford treatment (Photo: Luis Alvarez Provider: Getty Images)

New research shows one in five Britons are concerned they will no longer be able to afford regular dental appointments, due to the rising cost of living.

Almost half of young people aged 18 to 35 (48 per cent), questioned by the survey carried out by the Association of Dental Groups, admitted they had not been to a dentist for at least a year. This age group is the most concerned about future costs, with almost a third (30 per cent) saying they were worried about being able to afford appointments.

Neil Carmichael, executive chair of the Association of Dental Groups and former Conservative MP for Stroud, told i they were regularly hearing horrific tales about people turning to DIY dentistry in desperation.

“It is terrible that people are feeling forced to do DIY dentistry and pulling out their teeth with pliers. It is not how we should be doing things in modern Britain,” he said.

“Many people who resort to DIY dentistry are going to make the problem worse and end up in hospital – and this will only exacerbate the pressures on the NHS.”

Mr Carmichael said access to dentists is being hit by a double whammy of a shortage of dentists compounded by the cost of living crisis and people being unable to afford private, or indeed NHS dental treatment.

“Not only is there a cost of living crisis, there is a real lack of NHS dentists and there are many places where there are no NHS dentists at all. We call these places ‘dental deserts’,” he said.

“The whole of dentistry is really struggling to recruit and that makes it difficult for someone who is not only looking for a dentist, but is also constrained by the cost of living crisis.

“We need to see more dentists recruited and then there’s also the important matter of retention.

“The Government needs to make sure we are training the right people to do the right things and that applies to dentistry.

“However, training dentists takes a long time, so immediate action would be getting dentists from abroad to join our workforce.”

Neil Carmichael, executive chair of the Association of Dental Groups says DIY dentistry such as people pulling their own teeth out with pliers is terrible and shouldn’t be happening in modern Britain (Photo: Neil Carmichael)

Mr Carmichael told i the problem of retaining dentists to stay in the NHS needs to be tackled by reforming the NHS contract, so dentists can have more flexibility in treating their patients with the care they believe they need, as well as feeling working for the NHS is worthwhile and something they want to do.

“Right now, the pressures NHS dentists are facing are pushing them in the opposite direction,” he said. “People need to see dentists regularly as good oral healthcare is about prevention to stop bigger problems happening further down the line.”

Josh Keeling, an aircraft engineer who lives in Dorset, set up a petition on Change.org called “Dental care is healthcare – we need more NHS dentists now” after his own family’s experience with struggling to access NHS dental care.

He created the petition, which has already been signed by more than 188,500 people, as he knew he wasn’t alone. He told i he has been shocked at some of the horror stories people have shared and and the impact it has had on their lives.

Mr Keeling says his mission began after his partner Olivia Morley experienced dental problems, but struggled to find an NHS dentist. “Olivia had horrendous toothache and tried to get into an NHS, but couldn’t find one. She ended up having to call 111, but the only thing that could be done for her was short-term pain relief,” he said.

“She suffered horrendous tooth pain for a few weeks, but luckily, with the help of family, she was able to pay for private dental treatment to solve the issue. However, not everyone is lucky enough to do this.

“The cost of living crisis means there will be thousands of people across the country who cannot afford to see a dentist and they will be letting their teeth rot into abscesses.

“Looking after their teeth will be low on their list of priorities as people will need to spend their money on food and rising gas and electric bills.

“Just as people will stop having their cars serviced and spending money on preventative things that stop bigger problems in the long run, they will feel they have no choice but to cut back on dental treatment as they just don’t have the money.”

Josh Keeling, who set up a petition on change.org after his own family’s experience with struggling to access NHS dental care, with partner Olivia and son Theo (Photo: Josh Keeling)

Mr Keeling, who was in the Navy and left at the start of this year, had all his dental care provided by the Forces. But when he returned to civilian life, he struggled to find a dentist.

“I typed in our postcode in the NHS dentist finder and the closest NHS dentist was 64 miles away,” he said. “I rang them – only to be told they had an 18-month wait.”

Josh told i he was getting tooth pain and sensitivity so had no choice but to get private treatment and ended up paying £300 for treatment and a filling. He also struggled to find a dentist to check his three-year-old son Theo’s teeth, but managed to get them checked by the private dentist at the same time as getting his own teeth sorted.

“I am lucky that I managed to find the money to get private dental treatment,” said Josh. “I’m very aware myself and my family are fortunate to have gotten our teeth sorted, but it’s a cost we could still do without, especially with the cost of living being so extreme at the moment.”

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Many people signing the petition created by Josh have shared their traumatic experiences of resorting to DIY dentistry, as well as their frustrations and struggles in trying to get NHS dental treatment.

One man wrote how he had personally had to rip his own teeth out because of the crisis, while another admitted he currently had blu tack in two cavities.

Lee Hughes wrote: “My teeth are desperate for some help. Year after year passes by and still I have to pull my painful teeth out. What a country.”

Antony Armitage described how he had 13 teeth extracted in hospital and was told he just needed to call a dentist to get his mouth sorted. “That was nearly two years ago and I still haven’t been able to get into a dentist,” he said.

Dentists say the NHS contract is forcing dentists to turn private as it doesn’t pay adequately for the work they have to do (Photo: Peter Cade/Getty Images)

“I can’t even eat or go out and have suffered with severe depression and anxiety because of it.”

Andrew Perry told how after moving house, he telephoned his local dentist for an appointment and an automated message advised that their waiting list for new NHS patients was eight years.

Dentists and former dentists also signed the petition. One dentist who worked for the NHS for 15 years, said: “Please don’t blame the private dentists who are only trying to do good work, blame the Government for having a ridiculous system that has made many dentists like myself step out of dentistry.

“It’s pressure-filled and patients are quick to sue, materials are expensive and you have a short time to see too many patients.

“I developed anxiety and chronic pain in my right hand just from the pressure. I wished I had moved to private sooner, but believed in providing basic dental treatment.”

A former dental practice manager says the current banded system means that NHS dentists receive the same payment for doing six fillings on a patient as they would for doing one filling. “How can dentists afford to do five extra fillings for free?” she asked. “That was when our dentists were virtually forced out of the NHS system.”

“It’s the banding system that has made the dentists all go to the private sector. The Government needs to go back to the old system of a fee per item as it used to be. Then dentists would be happy to work for the NHS again and we wouldn’t have a shortage.”

A Government spokesperson told i: “We recognise the pressures people are facing with the rising cost of living and we are taking action to support households – including £1,200 for eight million vulnerable households and £400 for all families this year.

“The NHS commits around £3bn to dentistry each year, and last year we invested an additional £50m to fund up to 350,000 extra dental appointments and bust the Covid backlogs.

“We are working closely with the NHS to reform the dental system and are negotiating improvements to the contract to increase access for patients and ensure working in the NHS remains attractive to dentists.”

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