A new report has found that getting an NHS dentist appointment in Peterborough or Wisbech is significantly harder than for those living in Cambridge.
Members of Healthwatch Peterborough discussed the issue at their monthly community forum meeting.
Caroline Tyrrell-Jones, Communities Programme Manager at Healthwatch Cambridgeshire, said: “Due to the lack of routine and urgent appointments available at Peterborough and Wisbech NHS dental practices, people are having to go to Dental Access Centres for help.
“However, the numbers of people being turned away without treatment is substantial, and increasing.”
Healthwatch Peterborough researchers carried out a number of unannounced visits to Peterborough and Wisbech Dental Access Centres over a period of three months last year.
The Peterborough Dental Access Centre chosen was in the centre of the city, had regular opening hours, and was easily accessible by public transport.
Ms Tyrrell-Jones explained: “Of the 19 patients we spoke to in Peterborough when we visited, eight told us they would’ve normally seen a dentist elsewhere, but could not get even an emergency appointment.
“Ten told us they were not on any dentists’ list at all, while fourteen had used the Dental Access Centre before, but five had not.
“Six patients told us they were not given any advice about Dental Access Centres, but were ‘self-referred’, while two had even gone to A&E as a last resort.”
The Healthwatch Peterborough report, which will eventually be circulated to all dentist practices in Peterborough and Wisbech area, highlights problems faced by many dental patients in towns and cities throughout the country.
“There are simply not enough new dental practices opening, or new dentist’s and dental nurses training”, Ms Tyrrell-Jones explained.
This in spite of the fact that average private dentists earn up to £140k p/a, and even NHS dentists can expect to achieve between £38-83k p/a, with specialists earnings rising to £103k p/a. Dental nurses start at around £21k, but can earn as much as £83k as orthodontists.
She went on to add: “The other problem that our researchers found was that the vast majority of dental patients suffer from a huge information gap with regard to dentist’s appointments and availability.
“People do not know that formally registering with an NHS dental practice is no longer a possibility since April 2006.
“If you do ‘register’ for dental treatment with an NHS dentist, that registration is only valid for the period during which treatment takes place. After which you will not be sent dental appointment reminders anymore.
“What irritates dental practices more than anything else are people who make appointments, and then for whatever reason cannot attend, but do not cancel them. This just prevents others from getting that appointment slot, so if you know you can’t get to the dentist, always phone and cancel.”
Chairman of Peterborough Healthwatch, Nik Patten, added: “We all know there is virtually no dental care available in schools anymore, and the numbers of children suffering from poor dental hygiene who require dental work for anything from a filling to an abscess, or even extractions, rises every year.
“Unfortunately, people tend to only think of dental treatment when they need it most desperately, and this is why appointments – even in emergency cases – are so hard to obtain.”
“Obviously there is the option to go private, but for many people this is simply too expensive. If you do manage to get an NHS dental appointment it will cost around £21.50, but included in that price you can expect a clean, scrape and polish of your teeth.”
He went on to say: “We’ve realised from the research carried out that getting appointments in Peterborough and Wisbech is significantly more difficult than in Cambridge, but this is simply because there are more dental practices there.
“The advice Peterborough Healthwatch gives dental patients is not to wait until you desperately need treatment, but to register where you can, as soon as you can, and to have regular check-ups.
“For children, the simple message is to avoid sugary products, and ensure that they brush their teeth as regularly as possible, even after every meal.”