Only one dental practice in Thanet has confirmed it is taking children on to the books as NHS patients, according to a Freedom of Information request submitted to the NHS by the local Labour Party.
The evidence, seen by The Isle of Thanet News, confirms anecdotal reports that dental surgeries are inaccessible for many needing NHS treatment.
Researchers asked all the dental surgeries in Thanet whether their lists were open for children.
Only Kentapol Ltd in Broadstairs confirmed it could take on under 16s on the NHS although Station Road Dental Surgery in Birchington is accepting adults entitled to free dental care and also has openings for children but has not specified whether these are NHS.
All the other surgeries either said their books were closed, they could take children on for a fee or by referral from another dentist, or they were uncontactable.
Thanet Labour Party says this suggests the isle is one of many “dentistry deserts” where remaining NHS dentists aren’t taking on new patients. When Church Hill Dental Surgery in Ramsgate closed in 2018 it left some 8,000 patients needing to find a new dentist.
Nationally, an estimated 4 million people can’t access NHS care.
Polly Billington, Labour candidate to be the MP for the new seat of East Thanet, said: “This is a desperate situation for families in Thanet. One of the things any parent wants to do is make sure their child’s teeth are well looked after. And yet here, most of the dental surgeries have closed their books to new patients and only one confirmed it is taking children as NHS patients at all.
“After years of neglect of the NHS from the Tory government this might not come as a surprise but it is shocking. Thanet is a growing community and yet the services just aren’t there to support people.
“However hard NHS staff work they are stretched, and this is leaving children paying the price.
“If I am elected to be the Labour MP for East Thanet I will speak up for residents, so the community gets the dental services they need.”
A search for Thanet dentists taking on adult patients also showed most were not taking NHS or were only taking patients referred by another dentist. Several dental surgeries on the NHS search site had not updated details and many were listed as not taking any new patients.
Some 2,000 dentists quit the NHS in 2021, around 10% of all dentists employed in England.
Tooth extraction in hospitals due to tooth decay remains the most common reason for hospital admissions in the 6–10-year-old age group, with an estimated cost of hospital admissions for children aged 0 to 19-years for this intervention being £33 million per year.
Some 91% of dental practices are not able to accept new adult patients in England, and 80% not able to accept new child patients, millions are facing the unpalatable options of waiting for months in agony, resorting to DIY dentistry or coughing up private dental fees they can’t afford.
Net Government spend on general dental practices in England has been cut by over a third over the past decade, with the number of NHS dental practices in England falling by more than 1,200 in the five years prior to the pandemic.
A recent British Dental Association member survey showed more than 9 in 10 owners of dental practices with a high NHS commitment found it difficult to recruit a dentist, with 43% of vacancies unfilled for more than 6 months.