People across the UK have had to pull their own teeth out because they can’t access or afford an NHS dentist, a report suggests.
Extractions have been performed with pliers in some cases, while others have been forced to make a five-hour round trip to see a professional.
The Health and Social Care Committee says “urgent and fundamental reform” is needed – and there is evidence of pain and distress that is “totally unacceptable in the 21st century”.
Its report includes figures from a YouGov poll performed in March 2023 that found 10% of respondents had attempted “DIY dentistry” – and of those, 20% did so because they couldn’t find an NHS dentist.
The survey also found that 22% aren’t registered with a dentist – with 23% of people in this group saying it is because they cannot afford treatment.
MPs were also told about patients who have been left feeling isolated because of worsening oral health.
Steve Brine, chairman of the Health and Social Care Committee said: “Rarely has an inquiry been more necessary than this one.
“To hear of someone in such pain and distress that they resorted to using pliers to extract their teeth demonstrates the crisis in NHS dental services.
“The problem is compounded by people being unaware of what they’re entitled to and a contract that is unfit for purpose when it comes to paying dentists for treating NHS patients.”
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According to the committee’s report, there is a “significant regional variation” in access to NHS dentistry.
Those affected most included people from deprived areas, people from ethnic minorities, homeless people, refugees, and people with complex needs such as autism.
The committee is now calling on the government to ensure every person who needs an NHS dentist is able to access one a “reasonable distance” from their home and in a “reasonable timeframe”.
Mr Brine added: “What’s particularly frustrating is that recommendations made by our predecessor committee 15 years ago to reform the dental contract have still not been implemented.
“Yet contract reform alone is unlikely to bring back dentists who have already left the NHS or are considering leaving in the near future.
“We endorse the government’s ambition to ensure that everyone who needs an NHS dentist can access one. Belatedly, now is the time to deliver it.”
Shawn Charlwood, chairman of the British Dental Association’s General Dental Practice Committee, said the report is “an instruction manual to save NHS dentistry”.
He added: “The real question now is whether government or opposition are ready to use it. Failure to act will condemn this service to oblivion.”
An NHS spokesperson said: “While the number of dental appointments available for NHS patients is steadily increasing and the GP Patient Survey found seven out of 10 patients had a good overall experience of dental services, the NHS has already started to address some of these recommendations through initial contract changes last year.
“These significant reforms will continue to further support dental teams to carry out even more treatments and address the inevitable backlogs that built up during the pandemic, while record numbers of dentists, dental therapists and hygienists will be trained as part of the NHS Long Term Workforce Plan.”