DENTAL patients face a crisis across the county when it comes to access to NHS treatment - as it's revealed more than half of the adults in Dorset have not seen a dentist in a two-year period. 

Currently there are no practices taking on new NHS patients, with some only taking emergency referrals. 

Statistics from the House of Commons Library found that 354,008 adults in Dorset, or around 59 per cent of the population have not been seen by an NHS dentist in the past 24 months leading up to June 2023.  

On top of this, 64,477 children in Dorset, or 46.9 per cent of the younger population, have not received NHS treatments in a 12 month period between June 2022 and June 2023. The figures are from Dorset’s integrated care board (ICB) that is responsible for buying NHS dental services.

Understaffing has been seen as a major problem for dentists in rural areas, and was the reason that the Lyme Bay Dental Practice, based at Kent House in Lyme Regis, is due to close.

NHS patients that were registered at the practice were thrown into a state of limbo, with no other dentists in the county currently taking on new patients - and those seeking referrals would have to bear a 40-mile round trip to Dorchester, or into Somerset or Devon. 

There is some hope as patients could benefit from a new plan by the NHS, funded by the Government, in an effort to increase access to dental care whilst the county still has no practices offering NHS treatment.

Under the new NHS Dental Recovery Plan, £200m of government funding will see NHS dentists given a ‘new patient’ payment of between £15 to £50 depending on the treatment. This could treat around a million new patients who have not seen an NHS dentist in more than two years.

On top of this, around 240 dentists will be offered one-off payments of up to £20,000 for working in under-served areas to improve the access to care. The health service are also adding an NHS Long Term Workforce Plan to increase dental training places by up to 40 per cent by 2032.

But Weymouth Mayor and former dental hygienist Cllr Kate Wheller said: "I’m not very impressed with this plan. The changes that they made in the dentists contracts in the early 1980s made it unviable for dentists to offer a comprehensive service to patients. These changes do not make any difference."

Local councillor and Weymouth GP Jon Orrell says that the problem is far greater than the solution.

He said: “We would welcome any new investment in NHS dentistry, but the problem is much greater than the partial solution.

“We need to fundamental redesign of the NHS dentist contract which does not retain NHS dentists. People have a desperate job keeping it going, as with the current way that the contract is working it looks as though the service is looking to wind down.

"As a GP, we have seen more and more people come to us with abscesses in their mouth and we should be doing better than that," he added.

The dental plan is “too little too late” particularly for the 64,477 children not seen by an NHS dentist in Dorset in 12 months, according to Lib Democrat parliamentary candidate for West Dorset, Edward Morello.

He quoted the quoted the House of Commons Library-commissioned research which shows 47% of children who had not been seen by a dentist in Dorset over the 12-month period.

Mr Morello said: “The government’s plans are too little too late for local families who have been left waiting in pain struggling to get a dentist appointment.

"I have sleepless nights worrying about when my own young son, let alone my wife and I will be able to register with a dentist.

“It is appalling that so many children in our area are struggling to see an NHS dentist when they need to. We know that if children can’t access dental healthcare it can disrupt their eating, sleeping and learning."

Kate Calvert, acting chief commissioning officer with NHS Dorset said: "We absolutely recognise that NHS dentistry needs to improve. Services have been under pressure for some time despite teams working hard to meet the rising demand, and whilst we have seen some improvements in access, more needs to be done to ensure that everyone who needs to see a dentist can do so.  

“This week the NHS published a joint plan with the Department of Health and Social Care to recover NHS dental care which focuses on key areas including increasing workforce numbers, prevention and making services more accessible.  

“Over the coming months we will be working with partners including local dental leaders to understand what this means for Dorset and will publish updates on our website when they are available,” she added.