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‘People will resort to DIY dentistry with pliers!’ 75% of people in Lincolnshire without NHS dentist access

Only 25% of people in Lincolnshire could access an NHS dentist in the second half of last year, as the county’s oral healthcare problems continue.

The figure was revealed during a Health Scrutiny meeting at Lincolnshire County Council’s offices on Wednesday, April 17 — with NHS dentistry in Lincolnshire and how the health service coped during the winter months were top of the agenda.

Speaking to councillors inside the chamber, representatives from the NHS Lincolnshire Integrated Care Board (ICB) said access to dental services “still remains a challenge” in Lincolnshire.

Close-up of a dentist's hands working on the patient's teeth.
Close-up of a dentist's hands working on the patient's teeth.

The issue is apparent. Recent data from the ICB revealed that just under 25% of Lincolnshire’s population accessed an NHS dentist between July and December 2023 — meaning three in every four people in the county did not.

At 24.99% Lincolnshire is around half a percentage point below the national average of 25.54%, and just 38.1% of adults in the county received NHS dental care in the 24 months prior to June 30, 2023, which is 2.6% lower than England averages.

Last year, the Health Scrutiny Committee for Lincolnshire warned that seeing a dentist was becoming a “rich man’s game” as more and more people were forced to look at private alternatives to the usual NHS offering.

Coun Carl Macey, chair of the Health Scrutiny Committee
Coun Carl Macey, chair of the Health Scrutiny Committee

It is a challenge the ICB has still recognised as a “priority,” but their task is not made easier by dentistry closures across Lincolnshire.

In the last year, there have been four contract terminations from NHS dentists in Lincolnshire. They were in North Somercotes, Market Deeping, Boston and Stamford; with two of the cases due to retirement, and two others due to dentists moving into the private sector.

There were also further reductions to contract activity levels at four dental practices in Lincolnshire across the last 12 months, with providers citing challenges maintaining a sufficient dental workforce to deliver NHS care.

Close up of stone removal procedure at female patient.
Close up of stone removal procedure at female patient.

These changes over the past year have left Lincolnshire with just 51 NHS dental practices, and they are broken down by as: Lincoln 11, East Lindsey 11, South Kesteven 10, West Lindsey 5, Boston 5, South Holland 5, North Kesteven 4.

The transparency of communications around these dental practice closures was a major problem that councillors wanted to raise and find answers for.

Coun Jill Makinson-Sanders (East Lindsey Independent) told the ICB she heard of a dental practice in her ward of Louth “through gossip” and urged for greater communication with patients when updates like this happen.

The Health Scrutiny meeting
The Health Scrutiny meeting

“I feel really frustrated,” she said. “But I’m glad you’re having all these strategies, eventually something might happen.

“But I desperately need to see a dentist and don’t know who to go to.”

This was echoed by chair of the committee, Coun Carl Macey (Conservative), who said: “Access to NHS dental services is probably one of the areas most raised with me as a councillor, especially in Skegness, where residents are contacting local NHS dentists and being advised simply they are not taking on any patients.

Female dentist examining young woman's teeth.
Female dentist examining young woman's teeth.

“They’ve often then turned to private dentists, where in Skegness they’re actually saying the private dentists are full and you can’t see a private dentist either.

“It’s fantastic we’ve got these documents going forward, but it’s not helping the man or woman on the street. Communication seems to be one of the weakest areas.”

In recent times, more and more residents across Lincolnshire and the whole country are resorting to forms of DIY dentistry to combat their struggles accessing NHS care.

According to the British Dental Association, as many as 8 in 10 dentists are reporting cases of taking toothache matters into their own hands since the start of COVID-19 lockdown in early 2020.

These findings were echoed by Coun Tom Smith (Conservative) during the Health Scrutiny meeting, as he said: “75% of the local population do not have an NHS dentist, and most residents might not be able to afford a private dentist, which is quite alarming in this day and age.

“It will lead to two generations having an endemic crisis, with people resorting to DIY dentistry with pliers. It really needs structural reform.”

The Integrated Care Board for NHS Lincolnshire says it will be “targeting areas of deprivation where we know decay rates are high” and one of the ways it seeks to do that is through the use of mobile NHS dentist vans — but their capacity is limited and would only be able to see to around 12 patients a day.

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