AS many as four million adults across England face problems in accessing NHS dental care, according to new analysis from the British Dental Association.
It said access problems now affected communities across every region in the country, including areas that had not previously faced significant issues.
The BDA examined the government’s latest GP Patient Survey which found more than 1.4 million adult patients have tried and failed to access care – with a further two million estimated to have not tried in the belief they would be unable to secure an appointment.
With 130,000 reporting they are on waiting lists, and over 700,000 citing cost as a barrier, the BDA said the total level of “unmet need” stands at more than four million people, or nearly 1 in 10 of the adult population.
Many of the worst affected areas – which had previously not been badly hit – were in parts of London and the South East, including the majority of London boroughs, Brighton, and parts of Kent and Surrey. The government has acknowledged issues in a few “hotspot” areas with a history of access problems – such as West Yorkshire, Cumbria and Cornwall.
The BDA also found lower success rates among patients attempting to secure an appointment for the first time, the young and ethnic minorities.
It said these figures reflected the "perfect storm" facing patients, as budget cuts, contract failure and staffing problems bite.
The organisation blamed the "target-driven NHS contract" for contributing to funding issues as well as for a drop in workforce morale and staffing shortages.
The BDA's Chair of General Dental Practice Dave Cottam said: "These access problems are no longer affecting a few ‘hotspots’, but are now the reality for millions across every English region.
"The public are entitled to access care, but the system is stacked against them. They face practices struggling to fill vacancies, NHS charges designed to discourage attendance, while our contracts cap patient numbers."
He called on the government to remove barriers to care, boost funding and reform the NHS contract system.