Special report by Aaron Griffin

Cancelled appointments, deregistration and being left without a dentist - this familiar story rings true across the South West when it comes to NHS dentistry.  

Yvette Yates, a widowed resident of Totnes, was deregistered and needed emergency care.  

“I was deregistered by Pure Dental in November and at the beginning of December I had to go to emergency dental care in Newton Abbot. I have been told I need an extraction ASAP after antibiotics clear up my infection as they'll just return otherwise.”  

Yvette receives pension credit and cannot afford private dental care and doesn’t see where she will get treatment needed until can get registered with an NHS dentist locally.  

Abby Read, who lives in Totnes, had an NHS dentist for herself and her children.  

However, when her practice merged with another, she was informed that they would no longer be taking on NHS patients.  

When she enquired for a check-up, she was quoted £59 for an adult and £29 for each child. “The only option for me is to pay up front, which I cannot afford,” she said.  

Amber Oliver, another resident of Totnes, had to wait for five days for an emergency appointment after calling 111.  

“I can't tell you how shocking it is down here for NHS dentists. My dentist was halfway through my treatment, then went private and left me without. I have already lost two teeth; I am going to end up with no teeth at this rate. I am going to have to look into a payment plan for private care which I can't afford, it’s shocking.” 

Tony Dale was also an NHS patient at Pure Dental in Totnes and was told that he would be transferred to Dart Vale.  

But was told shortly after that Dart Vale were not taking on any more NHS patients.  

“It’s a diabolical situation. I only want a dentist service from the NHS. I’m fairly healthy and rarely see my GP but visited my dentist regularly because I’m 66 and my teeth need extra care. We were assured that NHS dentistry would continue for Pure Dental patients like me with Dart Vale, but not long after my dentist closed Dart Vale said it was full and was closing its list to new NHS patients transferring. Dentistry is an essential service. But it’s been bought by companies totally at odds with the ethos of the NHS.” 

David Matthews recently contacted MP Anthony Mangnall about the state of NHS dentistry in South Devon: “People now face considerable expenditure, one case recently came to my attention, £1200 for a tooth extraction. Another, a person on minimal income - £3000 for a course of treatment. Nationally many children are now without a dentist, at great ultimate cost to themselves, their families and, of course, the NHS,” said Mr Matthews. 

As previously reported, no dentists in the South Hams are taking new NHS patients.  

According to the NHS ‘Find a Dentist’ service, there are 50 Dental practices within 20 miles of Totnes – none are taking new NHS patients, and only a few are taking specialist referrals and new patients under 17.  

Sir Gary Streeter, MP for South West Devon, said: “Access to NHS dentistry has always been inconsistent and patchy during my 31 years as an MP, but since the Covid lockdown things have got worse. This is partly due to the 7 million patients who did not come forward for treatment during the pandemic, who now all want treatment and have created excessive demand.  

“The government has set out a long-term recovery plan for NHS dentistry, involving greater investment and 40% more dentists being trained and dealing with the contractual issues that are driving so many NHS dentists into the private sector.”  

Anthony Mangnall MP for Totnes, recently spoke in the House of Commons in a debate on the state of NHS dentistry across the UK.

Caroline Voaden, Liberal Democrat candidate for South Devon, said: “The fact that barely anyone in the whole of South Devon can see an NHS dentist is an absolute disgrace. The Conservatives knew this crisis was coming but did nothing to stop it. 

"They are so out of touch they don’t understand that for many people private dentistry is simply not an option. An NHS contract for children only would be one solution that would allow dentists to do a mix of private and NHS work and ensure that it’s not just rich kids who have good teeth. We have to find a solution fast but I fear we will have to wait until this government has been voted out of office.”

The British Dental Association, the UK dentists trade union, says the government needs to significantly improve their contract to incentivise dentists to do NHS work. 

“The BDA is still waiting for the government to publish its recovery plan for NHS dentistry pledged by the Government last April. We echo the Health and Social Care Committee’s that any plan must have ‘the scope and ambition required to immediately address the crisis of access people across the country are experiencing. 

“The BDA have underlined that a break from the failed NHS contract is the only way of realising the stated ambitions to restore NHS dentistry,” said BDA chair Eddie Crouch. 

TELL US YOUR STORY Have you suffered with a lack of NHS dentistry in the South Hams? Email [email protected]