The Rotten State of NHS Dentistry

Written by Karen Bryan

DentistI’m dismayed and furious at the rotten state of NHS dentistry in Northumberland.  In early Novemember 2011 I wrote about the cost of toothache; I ended up £30 out of pocket, when my own dentist cancelled an emergency appointment and I had to drive to a dental practice in a nearby village. At the weekend a large filling in one of my back molars fell out. I phoned my local NHS dentist first thing this morning to request an emergency appointment. However the receptionist said there are no appointments available until a week today. I’m worried that the whole tooth will crumble and although it’s not really painful, I’m experiencing some very strange sensations in that area.

I tried phoning the dentist I attended when my previous emergency appointment with my own dentist was cancelled but that village practice hasn’t had an NHS dentist for three months, although a new dentist is due to start there next Monday.  I also tried phoning the other NHS practice in Berwick upon Tweed but they couldn’t fit me in.

I’ve had ongoing dental problems for around six months and, at times, been in a lot of pain.  My local NHS dentist couldn’t get to the root of the problem and finally agreed to write an urgent referral to Newcastle Dental Hospital on 1 December 2011. However that referral was only received by the hospital on 22 December 2011 and the waiting time for an initial assessment can be up to 18-20 weeks.

So what’s the solution? Seems like it’s either grin and bear it while becoming a painkiller junkie during the long wait for NHS treatment or spend the money for private dental treatment.

It’s a major fail for NHS dentistry, which I’m funding by paying income tax and NICs, as well as charges for NHS treatment, when I’m left in pain for months.

In the end, it’s all down to money rather than health care based on need. Dentists can earn more working privately than on the NHS, while the UK Government is trying to rein in public spending.  I don’t see why I should have to pay for private dental care,  using up our hard earned savings, when I’m already paying for the NHS to provide dental care.


Monday 13 February 14.20 – The receptionist at my dentists called to say there was a cancellation at 2.30pm tomorrow, thank goodness for that.

Tuesday 14 February 16.00 – The dentist took an xray of the tooth which lost the filling and says it will have to be extracted. However the first available appointment is next Wednesday 22 February. I am concerned that the tooth will crumble more and be even harder to remove during this delay.

Monday 16 February – I received a letter from Newcastle Dental Hospital asking me to telephone to make an appointment. Maybe if an “emergency” hospital appointment had come through sooner  the problem tooth could’ve been identified and treated, avoiding me suffering a few additional weeks of pain? However I still need to attend the Dental Hospital as I’ve several other problematic, if not so painful, teeth.

Tuesday 21 February 10.20 – After pain around the dodgy tooth last night, part of the shell of the tooth cracked during breakfast and a few minutes later another chunk of filling dropped out. I wish the dentist had pulled the tooth immediately last week to avoid all this.

Wednesday 22 February– The tooth causing the pain has been extracted. It was pretty bloody after the extraction and I had to stagger to reception to pay £47 for the pleasure. I now have that “emergency” appointment on 13 March at Newcastle Dental Hospital (more than three months after I was told I’d be referred)  to see if they can sort out my other dental problems. It costs around £15 for the return rail ticket to Newcastle from Berwick upon Tweed.

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