Four out of ten people could not afford the £250 average cost of a filling from a private dentist without borrowing money or turning to friends or family for financial assistance.
The same proportion said they could not afford the £370 required to have a wisdom tooth extracted, while nearly six in ten could not afford root canal surgery, which has an average cost of £970.
Fees are significantly lower when treatment is provided through the NHS, but MPs from all parties have raised concerns about the shortage of NHS dentists.
The survey was conducted by Savanta ComRes for the Liberal Democrats. Lib Dem Health spokeswoman Daisy Cooper said: “It is disgraceful that millions of people are suffering in pain because the Government can’t get a grip on this.
“In a cost of living crisis, how can we expect people to find hundreds of pounds for emergency dental treatment?”
The Government says it is taking action to make it easier to get an appointment with an NHS dentist.
An additional £50 million was allocated for NHS dentistry for the final quarter of 2021/22 to provide urgent care to patients, after a backlog built up during the Covid pandemic.
The Government is also in the process of changing dentists’ contracts to encourage them to carry out more NHS work.
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “The NHS commits around £3 billion to dentistry each year, and last year we invested an additional £50 million 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.”
MPs have warned that constituents are finding it difficult to register with an NHS dentist.
Raising concerns in Parliament, Tory Peter Aldous said: “The impact on people is profound: millions unable to find a dentist; thousands in agony, resorting to DIY tooth extraction; as yet untold numbers of undiagnosed mouth cancers.”
Only a third of adults in England, and fewer than half of children, have access to an NHS dentist, according to trade body the Association of Dental Groups.
The number of dentists undertaking NHS activity fell by 2,000 over the past year.
Experts say that rotten teeth can lead to a range of health conditions, as well as damaging the economy by forcing sufferers to miss work.