A “collapse” in access to dental care for children during the pandemic will fuel record tooth extractions, experts have warned.
New figures show the number of operations on children to remove rotten teeth fell by 58% in 2020-21 as hospitals focused on Covid pressures.
Dentists said the figures did not reflect a drop in demand for the procedures – which take place in hospital under general anesthesia – instead showing the impact of lack of access to such care during the pandemic.
This follows warnings of ‘dental deserts’ in parts of the country, with patients struggling to find dentists taking new NHS patients in Somerset.
The British Dental Association has urged ministers to act decisively to deal with the backlog, warning that tens of thousands of children are suffering.
New data from the Office for Health Improvement and Disparities shows that 14,615 extractions were performed on decayed teeth in 2020-21 in children aged 0-19.
This compares to 35,190 such procedures in the same age group the year before the pandemic.
“Thousands of people are suffering”
Charlotte Waite, chair of the British Dental Association (BDA) community dental services committee in England, said: “Tooth extractions in children have plummeted, but the level of demand has not gone away. Covid has simply left tens of thousands of people in pain, potentially waiting years for desperately needed treatment.
The BDA has urged health officials to provide “full disclosure” of the wait times children are currently facing, and a properly funded plan to catch up with record numbers of people in need.
Dr Waite said: ‘The government has yet to offer real clarity on the extent of the backlog, or a credible plan to address it.’
Data shows that children from the poorest areas are three times more likely to have extractions than those from the wealthiest communities.
More than 12.5million NHS dental appointments for children have been lost in England since lockdown, figures show.
Somerset the worst “dental wasteland”
It comes as patients in Somerset say they are left in agony and face bills of over £1,000 as they are pushed into the private sector by the lack of health checks and treatment.
Patient groups have said they have been told there are no NHS dentists available across the county in what is believed to be England’s most stark case of a ‘dental wasteland’.
Healthwatch Somerset said a third of calls received in the three months to February were about problems accessing NHS dentistry – many of which were for children, pregnant women and people who cannot afford to pay. pay for private dental care.
Gill Keniston-Goble, head of the Patient Champions organisation, said that in England’s eighth largest county: “People tell us they’ve called lots of dentists but can’t find any one that accepts new patients.”
A survey by The Telegraph of the NHS ‘find a dentist’ online service found that of the 89 NHS-linked doctors’ practices surrounding Taunton and Bridgwater, the county’s two main towns, none freely accept adult patients.
A third of surgeries within 18 miles of towns said they were ‘not taking any new NHS patients at the moment’, while two were only taking under-18s, 25 had not updated their status and 29 were via the NHS. referral only, i.e. for emergency care.
“Tooth decay in children has not just disappeared”
Dr Nigel Carter, chief executive of the Foundation for Oral Health, said: “Reporting that child tooth extractions in England have declined is a smokescreen to the reality of what is happening. Childhood tooth decay hasn’t just disappeared in the past year, meaning thousands of young people are missing out on the treatment they need.
“It is unfair and unfair that a single child, let alone thousands, should suffer because they do not have access to the care they deserve.”
A spokesman for the Department of Health and Social Care said: ‘We have provided £50m to fund up to 350,000 additional NHS dental appointments and are increasing the workforce so that people can get the care they need.
“Dentists have prioritized vulnerable groups and urgent care throughout the pandemic, while continuing to provide free care to groups such as pregnant women, young people and low-income people,” a- he declared.
An NHS spokesperson said: “The NHS has made it clear that dental practices must put children first and has taken unprecedented action throughout the pandemic to help dentists continue to treat their patients.
“An additional £50million has been made available to support patients with urgent care needs in January – as well as income protection for practices unable to deliver their usual levels of activity – and anyone concerned about their child’s dental health should contact their local dentist as they usually would or seek advice from NHS 111.”