A BBC survey has found that 90 per cent of NHS dental practices across the UK are not accepting new adult dental patients, and 80 per cent are not taking on children.
The BBC News team contacted 6,880 practices and found that in a third of UK council areas no dentists were taking on new adult NHS patients.
The survey found that 91 per cent of NHS practices across England were not accepting new adult patients, rising to 98 per cent in the South West, North West and Yorkshire and the Humber regions – and 79 per cent of NHS practices in England were not accepting new child patients.
A quarter of UK dental practices not taking on adults said they had an open waiting list, and 17 percent said the wait time was a year or longer, or were unable to say how long it would be. Over 200 practices said they would only take on children if their parents were private patients at the clinic (although not all practices were asked this question).
The survey revealed that access was best in London, where almost a quarter of practices were taking on new adult NHS patients. Scotland also had significantly better access to NHS dentistry for adults, with 18 per cent of practices taking on new health-service patients.
The BBC said that people across the UK reported being unable to afford private fees and that subsidised rates were crucial to getting care. It found that people had resorted to driving hundreds of miles for treatment, pulling out their own teeth without anaesthesia, making improvised dentures and restricting diets to “little more than soup”.
Shawn Charlwood, Chair of the British Dental Association's General Dental Practice Committee commented on the BBC survey: "NHS dentistry is at a tipping point, with millions unable to get the care they need and more dentists leaving with every day that passes.
"We're seeing the results of years of chronic neglect, set into overdrive by the pressures of the pandemic. The question now is will Ministers step up before it's too late?
"Nothing we've heard from government to date gives us any confidence this service has a future. Without real reform and fair funding NHS dentistry will die, and our patients will pay the price."
A spokesperson for the Department of Health and Social Care replied to the BBC: “Improving patient access to NHS dental care is a government priority and the new reforms to the dental contract announced last month are an important step, allowing the best performing practices to see more patients, making better use of the range of professionals working in the sector such as dental therapists, hygienists and nurses, while also rewarding dentists more fairly for providing more complex care.
“The NHS commits around £3 billion to dentistry each year and have made an extra £50 million to help bust the Covid backlogs, building on the unprecedented £1.7 billion support we provided during the pandemic, to protect teams and patients by paying dental practices for the work they would normally have carried out if it were not for Covid regulations.”
A spokesperson from the Scottish Government commented: “A record number of people are registered with a NHS dentist, more than 95 percent of the population of Scotland."