A new study has found that 380,000 patients visit their doctor’s surgery with dental issues every year and there’s a good chance that this figure could rise. The strain on the NHS is well-known and GPs have made changes to the way they manage their appointments and schedules over the last decade to become more efficient, however, the influx of people with dental complaints isn’t helping the load being placed on doctors.
There is a train of thought however, that in the UK there is a “hostile environment” which results in people not being able to get a dental appointment or to even “get on the books” at their local dentist.
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There are many cases of people struggling to get appointments or to get accepted as a patient across the UK. This is because many dental practices can and will only accept so many patients on the NHS. Of course, this is due to the money they need to make to run their business. If the majority of a dentist’s patients were NHS-related, they wouldn’t be able to charge and so many have a set limited number they are able to accept on the NHS before committing to other private patients who would pay for their treatments.
In some areas this is clearly an issue, particularly in more rural towns and smaller locations where a dental practice wouldn’t survive if every patient was treated on the NHS. This results in many patients struggling to find anywhere for in some cases, vital treatment. In some ways, this study shows a revolt by patients who simply can’t wait or must have treatment and who are visiting their GPs because they have no other option.
Visiting the dentist can be stressful, worrying and costly and many people put off going to the detriment of their dental health. However, aside from those reasons, we now have a growing problem where patients have either very long journeys to travel to get to their nearest dentist which accept NHS patients (some can be hundreds of miles away) or they have to face paying a private dentist for the treatment which many cannot afford. These additional “walls” are creating a vacuum in which patients are refusing to have treatment because of cost or due to having no dentist local enough to be able to travel to.
This limitation has resulted in some unusual cases, including one couple in West Yorkshire who literally pulled their own teeth out because no dentist would accept them on the NHS. With a 2 year waiting list they couldn’t be seen for treatment and so they decided to take extreme measures. Of course, this is certainly not something that should ever be considered, particularly as it could cause further dental health problems as well as risk to your overall health but this is an extreme result of a very real and ongoing problem across the UK.
Many people have struggled to find places for their children to be treated and this is even more worrying because of the impact it could have on their dental health later in life.
The study was published in the British Journal of General Practice and warned that pressure is “piling on GPs who are unequipped to help”. This is a clear problem that needs to be resolved sooner rather than later, in order to ensure everyone has equal opportunity for maintaining good dental health.