NHS dentistry is in crisis in Northern Ireland - Stormont needs to act urgently

Half of dentists anticipate leaving the NHS - it’ll create a sea of chronic pain, missed oral cancers, mental health issues and an undoubted increase in sepsis

nearly half of all adults (47%) have been affected by their teeth in the last year, with 28% saying they had felt self-conscious
Dissatisfaction has never been higher among dentists doing NHS work (Alamy Stock Photo)

It won’t be long before a huge dental sinkhole appears to swallow up Northern Ireland’s NHS dental service, which only makes the deafening silence from the cavalry carrying a suitable rescue plan more and more unnerving.

The April deadline is galloping towards us; this is when many, many dentists are planning to leave the NHS. The most recent British Dental Association survey revealed that 88% of dentists intend to cut down the amount of NHS dentistry that they will provide and 49% said that they anticipate leaving the service altogether. These levels of dentist dissatisfaction within the NHS are the highest ever recorded.

I hear time and again from dentists that they want to carry on delivering services to provide good oral health for all, but the situation has unfortunately become non-viable due to years of increasing costs and underfunding.

In the past month, two patients have attended the practice with homemade dentures trying to plug the gap in their smiles. Ingenious techniques had been employed and their efforts were remarkably good albeit they were severe choking hazards.

Other toe-curling stories of patients pulling their teeth out and patients feeling that their only option left was to fly to Turkey to have their teeth monstrously overtreated show what a sad state of affairs we have found ourselves in.

DIY dentistry is so limited that it’s really not a viable long-term option (I can’t do a lot of dentistry on myself even with access to all of the correct tools, materials and equipment).

Leaving patients without a dental service is a daunting road to go down and not one that a modern society should tolerate. I expect it would feel like being transported back to the Middle Ages.

An underperforming dental service leaves a sea of chronic pain, missed oral cancers, mental health issues and an undoubted increase in sepsis due to untreated oral infections, which in serious situations lead to deaths.

On the upside, there are enough dentists in Northern Ireland to look after the population so I’m looking forward to hearing what the plan is for dentistry here - my hope is that it comes rolling down that Big Hill very, very soon.