A Salisbury resident who resorted to supergluing his dentures whilst waiting to get a dentist appointment on the NHS last year considers himself "lucky".

Steve Glazebrook’s denture "broke in half" at the start of 2021, and he was finally fitted with a new one six weeks ago at a dentist in Bournemouth.

During this time, the 64-year-old used superglue to keep it together so that he could eat solids but this meant that instead of a simple fix the whole denture had to be replaced.

His struggle speaks to the wider issue of patient backlogs exacerbated by the pandemic and an "exodus" of dentists, as unions warn NHS dentistry is "hanging by a thread". 

Read more: Shortage of NHS dentists 'particularly acute in Salisbury' says MP

Steve’s story

At the beginning of 2021, Steve tried to get an appointment at his Salisbury dental practice but he had been removed from the list. 

This is standard for NHS patients who haven’t attended their dentist for two years or more, but when he tried to find another dentist he discovered that all dental practices in Salisbury were not accepting new NHS patients. 

This was also the case for the Andover practices he had been recommended after contacting the NHS helpline on 111. 

After six months of trying to find a dentist that would accept NHS patients, Steve finally got an appointment at a Bupa Dental Care in Bournemouth for three months later. 

There were nine months in total between his denture breaking and him first seeing a dentist, and he had to drive between Bournemouth and his home in Bemerton a total of five times for consultations and fittings. 

But Steve, who worked in the Navy, considers himself "lucky" to have been treated at all even if it was nearly a year later. He said: “I would think it’s probably similar to a lot of other peoples experience with NHS dentists.

“It did have an effect on me. I wouldn’t like to go out and socialise when you can’t smile because your teeth are a mess, but one has to eat. And the only way I could eat without having to resort to eating soup or baby food was to superglue my teeth together which I’m sure isn’t very healthy.

“It is very frustrating, but I'm lucky because there must be people who are in pain and still suffering from it."

The other option NHS 111 gave him was to get treated privately, but as Steve is on Universal Credit after losing his job due to his health, this was not something he could afford. 

“For a choice you need to have two options, and if only one of those options are available you do not have a choice do you,” he added. 

NHS dentistry is "hanging by a thread"

Data from NHS England and NHS Wales analysed by the BBC shows that more than 2,500 dentists - up to 8% of the workforce - stopped treating NHS patients last year.

In NHS Bath and North East Somerset, Swindon and Wiltshire CCG, there has been a 9% reduction in the amount of dentists completing NHS work between March 2020-2021, taking the figure from 446 to 405. 

This is a reduction of 41 dentists, which means nearly two thirds of the dentists who stopped completing NHS work since 2017 did so in the past year, hinting at the huge impact of the pandemic. 

Over the past five years, there has been a 14% reduction in the amount of dentists completing NHS work in the CCG, which amounts to 65 less in total.

The British Dental Association (BDA) chair Shawn Charlwood said: "NHS dentistry is hanging by a thread, because without NHS dentists, there will be no NHS dentistry.

“Every practice struggling to fill vacancies translates into thousands of patients unable to access care."

The reasons given for why dentistry is facing these issues are not limited to the pandemic, which has caused large patient backlogs, but also the system itself. 

Until last year, NHS dentists in England and Wales had been using the units of dental activity (UDA) system where a practice's activity is measured.

Dental practices are given targets to achieve for the NHS, and if they don't meet them they are forced to pay back NHS money. 

Critics have claimed the UDA system does not incentivise preventative work, and is a key reason for dentists leaving the health service.

The number of NHS and HSCNI dentists in Scotland and Northern Ireland, where this system is not in place, has remained steady over the last three years.

Wales also moved away from this system in 2020, the BDA predicting NHS dentist numbers will increase in the coming years and calling for England to take the same action.

NHS Find my Dentist comes up empty handed 

Concern has also been raised about the usefulness of NHS England’s ‘Find a Dentist’ tool, which was created to help patients find an NHS dentist in their area. 

BBC analysis showed that around 75% of practices in England had not updated the site to show whether they were accepting NHS patients or not within the last three months.

At the time of writing, the only dental clinic within ten miles of Salisbury that has updated their information recently on the NHS list and says they are accepting NHS referrals is The Chequers Dental Practice on Endless Street. 

Interim director of Healthwatch Chris McCann said getting up to date information as to where people can access service is a “real issue”.

“Information on practices on the NHS website can be out-dated,” he added. “We've seen some people having to contact up to 20 practices before finding someone to take them.”

This is certainly the case for Journal readers who took to Facebook to share their own struggles with finding NHS dental care. 

One reader, Donna Shannon, said: "Yes, my 2 year old has never seen a dentist because they still sent seeing anyone. 2 years without an appointment is ridiculous."

Another shared that she had no problems getting a dental appointment, but "they aren't taking new patients".

BSW CCG has been contacted for comment. 

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