- Lynette Horsburgh
- From BBC News
Residents of a city in the UK where there is not even a single dentist from the British public health system (NHS) available to treat new patients tell how they became desperate and even resorted to creating home-made dentures following instructions on social media.
Ian Simpson, from Blackpool in North West England, says he has spent years trying to book an appointment for dental treatment, with no success.
A UK-wide BBC investigation could not find any clinics in the county of Lancashire that would accept new NHS patients.
Simpson says he has “given up” and that he avoids smiling.
NHS England said it has made recent changes to make more resources available and support clinics.
But Simpson says that, frustrated with the long wait, he now plans to travel to Turkey or Italy for treatment.
“I don’t smile as much as I used to. It breaks my heart. I’ve tried and tried. Privately, the budget was £9,900,” he says.
The chef and former boxer adds: “I had beautiful teeth and I always took care of them.”
Oran Hodgkiss, 22, says he had to travel to his native Northern Ireland for dental treatment.
The student, who is entitled to free treatment by the NHS, has had a problem with a wisdom tooth for months and is in a lot of pain.
He says he has tried treatment with 12 dentists without success — only one of them offered to put him on an 18-month waiting list.
“It’s ridiculous. I understand that there are delays caused by covid, but not getting a dentist is unbelievable”, he laments.
Hodgkiss says he is desperate to get his teeth fixed in time for his wedding next month and now faces “more flights and absences from work”.
Caroline Young says she had to resort to making her own dentures by melting modeling plastic after seeing instructions on social media.
The crowns she had previously placed were falling off, she explains.
Young tried superglue for a while, but now he uses polymorph plastic — tiny pellets that melt when submerged in hot water — and molds them into false teeth.
“It’s not what I wanted to do. I’d rather have teeth. That way I can smile at people a little from a distance and not look too weird,” she says.
“There were times when I tried to fit in and it didn’t work. Then I cry because I can’t leave. I can’t leave the house. It’s demoralizing.”
Dentists warn that homemade dentures not only pose a choking hazard, but also food traps that can trigger serious tooth decay and gum damage.
Emma Clarke, from nearby Fleetwood, says she has tried dentists as far away as Lancaster.
She chipped her front tooth early in the coronavirus pandemic and has problems with four others.
The 39-year-old woman says her teeth were “disintegrating” in the midst of waiting to find a dentist and that she cannot afford to pay for private consultations.
“It’s atrocious. We shouldn’t have to pay. It’s unfair. It’s depressing. It really knocked my confidence down,” he laments.
Clarke adds that he was also turning to homemade plastic dentures.
“They’re better than no teeth,” she says.
Rebecca Carey, who has recently become a mother, needs treatment for a broken tooth and the nearest NHS dentist she could find was in Liverpool, more than 80 kilometers away.
“I can’t eat from that side of my mouth so I don’t have more damage,” she says.
“It’s disgusting. The city of Blackpool wants to keep thriving, but it can’t take care of its residents. No one explained why they aren’t accepting new patients either. They just told us ‘we can’t help and there’s no waiting list’.”
An NHS spokesperson said: “The NHS recently announced the first dental reforms since 2006 that will support clinics to improve access, including giving high-performing clinics the opportunity to increase their activity and treat more patients.”
“Discussions on other changes that benefit patients and staff are still ongoing,” he said.
The spokesperson added that the coronavirus pandemic has had a “disproportionate impact” on the region, which has led to a disruption in routine care, with dentists prioritizing urgent cases.
NHS England has invested £50m to help increase access to dentists across the country, which equates to more than £7m in North West England alone, he concluded.
Member of Parliament Scott Benton says recent dental contract changes made by NHS England “should go a long way towards reducing the backlog of dental problems that have grown up due to the pandemic”.
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