Suffolk patients reveal the struggle to get an NHS dental appointment
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Dental patients have told how broken teeth have gone unfixed and they have been left in pain for months as they struggle to secure an NHS appointment.
The reduction in the number of clinics doing NHS appointments along with the Covid pandemic has meant most people have been unable to see a dentist unless, there has been a need for an emergency appointment, for the past year.
Private appointments are available but of 2,000 people surveyed by Healthwatch England, 27% said they either struggle to pay or avoid dental treatments altogether because of the cost.
Ipswich resident Belinda Lewis, who is lucky enough to have an NHS dentist at the Orwell Dental Practice, suffered 11 weeks of pain with her eye, ear, nose and cheek all affected because she could not get a filling. She eventually lost the tooth.
Mrs Lewis was told that the dentist was only accepting emergency appointments and was given antibiotics.
"I suffered for another two weeks, phoned my doctor asked for antibiotics for my tooth, took them, suffered for another two weeks, found antibiotics in the drawer at home, took them, phoned again, threatened to take pliers to my tooth as I had got beyond coping with the pain, got an appointment but had to wait another two and a half weeks.
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"My husband has had a broken tooth for a year and a half now, on and off pain but at some point it will turn a corner and he will be in as much pain."
Tracy Strowger, from Leiston, said after the Crown Street dentist closed last March she has struggled to get on the NHS or private nearby and says the price difference between the two services can be staggering.
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She said: "Where I was at my dentist, a standard filling on the NHS would be about £30 but private it would be £120+ and that's over a year ago. It's probably even higher now."
Meanwhile, Paige Cocks has waited three years just to register with a dentist in Suffolk
"Forever told to use my old dentist which is nearly two hours away so out of the question," Ms Cocks said. "I’m fortunate to not have had any issues in the last three years but definitely in need of a check-up."
Ipswich pensioner David Standring said he has been without a dentist since December 2019 when he refused to go private at Parkview Dental Centre
Mr Standring, 69, who has since only found one dentist willing to take him on in four years time, said: "It's supposed to be NHS for the people.
"I don't know what we're going to do, they just don't want to know. [My dentist put forward a] Denplan of £200 a year for three check ups and two clean ups.
"I can't afford that."
But others like Tim Butler-Henderson have been pleased with the Denplan option offered by a Wickham Market dentist, who has been "superb".
Chris Smith also phoned a Suffolk dentist yesterday (Thursday, May 27) and was "happily" able to get an appointment for June 22.
The struggle to get an appointment has led to some taking out their frustrations on dental staff, who are having to put up with abuse on a daily basis.
Nicky Hazelwood, who works in a large dental practice in Ipswich, said: "We still have Covid restrictions in place and surgery time has been halved due to Covid because of fallow time (the time to allow droplets to settle and be removed from the air)."
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesman said: “All dental practices have been able to deliver their full range of face-to-face care since last June, with over 600 practices providing additional support for urgent dental treatment.
“We continue to support the most vulnerable by providing exemptions from dental charges for certain groups – nearly half of all dental treatments, over 17million, were provided free of charge in 2019-20.”
The NHS said urgent dental care continues to be available for anyone who needs it, as it has been throughout the pandemic. In April last year, 32 urgent dental care hubs were established in the East of England to provide care for people with urgent and emergency dental problems.
People who are in pain should call NHS 111 to access an Urgent Dental Centre.