NEARLY a quarter of people in Dorset have never tried to book themselves an appointment with an NHS dentist, a survey suggests.

Fortunately, most of these people have been using private services rather than not attending at all.

The British Dental Association claims people are being pushed towards private practices by the lack of funding for NHS dentists and restrictions on the services they can offer.

Chairman Mick Armstrong said: “Socio-economic factors will play a part. The more affluent may choose to see a dentist privately because it may be quicker to see a dentist and because of the perception of ‘bespoke’ care, because of the wider choice of dental materials available, and access to services which are not available on the NHS.

“In other instances, they may choose this route because of restrictions placed on NHS services, for example orthodontics, or treatments rarely available such as implantology.”

Of the 10,073 people in the Dorset Clinical Commissioning Group area who responded to this year’s GP Patient Survey – conducted between January and March – 22 per cent said that they had never tried to book an appointment with an NHS dentist.

It means fewer people are looking to the NHS for their tooth care. Five years ago, 21 per cent had never tried to book an appointment with an NHS dentist.

When those who had not tried to book an appointment in the past two years were asked why, the most common reason given was that they preferred to see a private dentist.

It reflects the picture across England, where this was the most common reason given.

This year’s survey also showed that 16 per cent of patients in the Dorset CCG area had not tried to book to see their NHS dentist in the last two years.

While timeframes for how often patients should see their dentist vary depending on personal circumstances, the NHS recommends that everyone sees a dentist at least every two years.

The BDA claims the NHS budget is only sufficient to cover care for half of the English population, which is fuelling growing access problems.

These factors could influence patients who do attempt to access care.

Despite this, 94 per cent of Dorset patients said that when they did try to book an appointment they were successful.

Approval rates for NHS dentists in the area are strong. This year’s survey showed 84 per cent of patients rated their dentist as either very good or fairly good.