10 Feb

Patients resort to DIY dentistry, as watchdog reports two-year waits for some

Some dental patients in England have been forced to undertake DIY treatment due to being unable to get an appointment with a dentist, a watchdog has revealed. 

Healthwatch England suggested that hundreds of people had contacted representatives in 2020, with many experiencing difficulties in seeing a dentist. A report featured examples including patients being told they would have to wait two years to have treatment on the NHS and a patient being quoted £1,700 for a procedure that would cost £60 at an NHS practice. There were also concerns about patients being encouraged and in some cases, pushed, to book private appointments to avoid having to wait for long periods for NHS treatment. 

Although dental practices in England have been open since June 2020, there are significant backlogs, and many practices have been prioritising urgent cases, which means that routine services have been suspended. 

Sir Robert Francis QC, chair of Healthwatch England, described the situation as a “mess” and said that there has been a sharp increase in the number of people contacting the watchdog with reports of dental access issues and stories centred on choosing between joining a waiting list and paying for private treatment. 

One concern, according to Sir Francis, is that cases that would ordinarily be deemed urgent are now considered non-emergencies and this means that patients are having to put up with severe pain and manage complex issues with no end date in sight. There are examples in the report of patients with cracked dentures and those needing root canal treatment that had been unable to see a dentist. In some cases, patients felt they had no choice but to take the situation into their own hands and attempt DIY repairs and treatments, including extraction.