The first students have started a new course at the University of Suffolk in Ipswich which has been launched to try to ease the dentistry crisis in the years ahead.

A total of 24 students have been enrolled in the three-year dental hygienist and therapist course which started in February.

It is the first such course at the university - and will be followed by a second in September.

East Anglian Daily Times: Students on the University of Suffolk dentistry course.Students on the University of Suffolk dentistry course. (Image: Charlotte Bond)

From next year there will be one course a year for 24 students - the numbers are limited by the space for placements in the area during the three-year course.

Dental hygienists and therapists can undertake most dental procedures including simple fillings, extraction of children's teeth, and basic check-ups.

People needing more complex treatment like root canal work or adult extractions have to be referred to a qualified dentist but much routine work can be handled by those on the course.

East Anglian Daily Times: Dentistry tutor Yasmin Ryan.Dentistry tutor Yasmin Ryan. (Image: Charlotte Bond)

Tutor Yasmin Ryan said the 24 students on the course had come from a wide area: "Some are local but we have students from all over the country including Bradford and Birmingham."

One thing that is required is a commitment to work within the NHS once the training is complete and they have qualified.

East Anglian Daily Times: Tim Greenacre in the Dentistry area.Tim Greenacre in the Dentistry area. (Image: Charlotte Bond)

Tim Greenacre is the chief operating officer at the university and said there had been as many as 10 applicants for each place on the course.

He said: "It has been very popular but we have to be sure we can find enough placements for the students.

"We do ask them in their interview about their commitment to the NHS and that is a very important factor in making an offer."

The students are based in the James Hehir Building on the Waterfront and some of their training will be in the new dentistry centre in the same building that will offer emergency treatment to patients who are not registered with a practice and are referred by the NHS 111 service.

Details of how that will operate will be published soon - but people will not be able to register with it as they have done at a traditional dentists' practice.

The vast majority of students on the course have already worked in practices as dental nurses and are trying to increase their skills.

East Anglian Daily Times: Charlie Steward and Amira Mohamed are keen to improve their skills and gain new qualifications.Charlie Steward and Amira Mohamed are keen to improve their skills and gain new qualifications. (Image: Charlotte Bond)

That is the case for two students we met - Amira Mohamed from Birmingham and Charlie Steward from Eye.

Miss Mohamed said: "I worked in a dental practice before the pandemic and in a UDC (Urgent Dental Care) hub during the lockdown.

"I wanted to increase my skills and to have the chance to treat more people - and when I saw the location of the university here by the Waterfront I thought 'what a great place to study.'

"Most of us on this course have already been working in dentistry so it is a good way to learn."

Mr Steward also worked as a dental nurse before starting the course: "This is a natural progression for me - getting more skills and hopefully it will enable me to help ease the crisis in the future. I think all of us here are committed to the NHS."

The new course should help ease the crisis in dentistry, in time, but dentists' practices maintain the only way to really reverse the loss of NHS dentists is for the government to fundamentally reform the contract it has with the profession.

Once qualified, the dental hygienists and therapists would then have the opportunity to take a further two-year course to fully qualify as dentists.

But while many people do tend to stay in the area of the university they studied at, there are only a limited number of new dental hygienist and therapist courses across the country and once they have qualified the new professionals are likely to be able to take their new skills to any area.