Plymouth facing a ‘dental timebomb’ as patients delay check-ups by five years

Dental Phobia says research suggests the cost of living crisis has impacted people’s decisions on going to the dentist

Plymouth is facing a ‘dental timebomb’ as patients delay check-ups by as much as five years – and some people aren’t going to the dentist at all, a new survey has shown.

The cost of living crisis is being blamed, as well as shortages at dental surgeries across the country. However a new interactive map shows Devon has 286 NHS dentists serving a population of 795,102 – or one NHS dentist for 2,770 residents.

However, Plymouth is the best served area for NHS dentists in Devon with a total of 23 practices. Exeter has 16, Barnstaple five and Honiton, three, according to the NHS find a dentist service.

The average gap between children having dental appointments in the county has gone over a year for the first time and now stands at 15 months, according to the survey by Dental Phobia – a website set up to help the millions in the UK who fear going to the dentist.

Men wait an average of five years between check-ups and 45 per cent say they don’t go to the dentist at all unless they have a problem. Women wait an average of three years between check-ups and 35 per cent say they only go if they have an issue.

The cost of living crisis is a key factor in patients putting off going to dentist – and fear of the bill they get at the end is greater than the fear of the needle. Shortage of NHS dentists is a second factor in patients delaying appointments with people neglecting their teeth because they cannot find cost effective treatment.

Dental Phobia set up panels throughout the UK including in Devon to find where patients were most likely to skip dental check-ups. It found that the gap between dental check-ups had risen by 20 per cent in Devon over the last five years.

Lots of patients in Plymouth got out of the habit of going to the dentist during the Covid crisis and they have not returned because of fears over the cost. Two-thirds of patients across Devon (67 per cent) said their biggest worry prior to an appointment is the bill they get at the end of it. This compares to the 53 per cent of patients who fear going to the dentist largely because of the pain and the needles used for anaesthetics prior to treatment.



Generic pictures of dentist

Just under half of patients (46 per cent) said a shortage of NHS dentists had put them off seeking treatment because they are worried a private dentist would be too expensive.

Dentist Rhona Eskander, a world leader in dental care, said: “Devon is facing a dental timebomb if patients don’t get back into the habit of seeking regular check-ups. What is most worrying is that the cost of living crisis is forcing some parents to cut corners with their children’s teeth.

“Regular dental appointments are easy to put off and lots of people in Devon got out of the habit of going to the dentist during Covid and have not returned. Patients end up losing their teeth because small cavities which could be fixed inexpensively when they first develop grow quickly without treatment.

“And more serious conditions such as the early signs of oral cancer – particularly important for patients who smoke and drink regularly – are often first spotted by dentists. One of the most common signs of head and neck cancer is an ulcer which develops in the mouth and does not heal within 14 days. Caught early, survival rates are good but they drop rapidly.”

Earlier this year, a new poll suggested almost a quarter of people had been unable to access care from an NHS dentist in the last year. Research, conducted on behalf of the Liberal Democrats, found that 23 per cent of people said they have tried to access NHS dental care in the last 12 months but have been unable to get an appointment.

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “The number of dentists practicing in the NHS increased by over 500 last year, and we are continuing work to improve access to dental care for all NHS patients – backed by more than £3 billion annually.”

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