The NHS needs to recruit an extra 5,200 dentists to bring services in the UK up to the standard of other countries, a study says.
Dentists are in short supply
Researchers at the University of Bath say on average the NHS has less than four dentists for every 10,000 people.
This compares to five dentists per 10,000 in Austria, Italy and Poland and six per 10,000 in the United States.
Writing in the International Journal of Health Geographics, they urged the government to recruit more dentists.
The researchers used a traffic light system to illustrate the shortages of dentists across the UK.
Areas with five dentists per 10,000 population were coded green. Those with between four and five were coded amber while those with less than four dentists for every 10,000 people were coded red.
Overall, 29 primary care trusts in England which serve 3.9m people were classed as green.
Some 80 PCTs serving 14.1m people were classed as amber while 198 PCTs serving 31.1m were classed as red.
In Wales, just 0.8m people were living in areas classed as green. Another 2.1m were living in so-called red areas.
The researchers also found huge variations in the number of dentists depending on where people live.
For instance, there are eight dentists for every 10,000 people in Westminster but just two for every 10,000 in central Suffolk.
"Dentists tend to be concentrated in major cities and urban centres and away from some of the deprived or less populated urban and rural communities," the researchers said.
They suggested that in the short-term the situation could be remedied by
reallocating dentists from areas with a surplus to neighbouring areas with
shortages, where their traffic light map could prove useful.
The authors also said that the NHS needed to do more to attract dentists and
the government should set targets to increase provision to to five dentists per
10,000 people at the very least.
"Such large figures could be met in the short-term by improving programmes to
attract more dentists to undertake NHS work and relying on suitably qualified
dental graduates," the researchers said.
The Department of Health said it was working to improve access to NHS dentists.
"We have invested £59 million extra to tackle access problems, which includes setting up an NHS Dentistry Support Team to help the worst affected PCTs get to grips with local access problems," a spokeswoman said.
"There are more dentists in England than ever before - there are now over 19,000 dentists providing NHS care, compared to 15,411 in 1992.
"This study does not include community dentists or dentists based in hospitals, which account for a further 3,763 dentists. Neither does the study compare like with like.
"Dental services in other countries are predominantly private, therefore not
comparable with the configuration of the NHS service."
A spokeswoman for the Welsh Assembly said they were fully committed to
supporting NHS dental services.
"We have recently announced a £5.3 million boost for NHS dentistry to support
proposals for a new dental contract and a programme of reform aimed at
delivering improvements to access and oral health, along with better working
lives for dentists and their teams."
But shadow health secretary Tim Yeo said: "This disgraceful report will come as
no surprise to over half of the adult population who aren't registered with a
"These people have all been let down by the prime minister who promised back
in 1999 that under Labour `everyone would have the chance to see their
Liberal Democrat health spokesman Paul Burstow said:. "Government claims that everyone has access to an NHS dentist are a kick in the teeth for people across the country who cannot get registered at their local dental surgery.
"With so few dentists accepting new NHS patients, people are forced into
queuing down the street when NHS places become available," he said.
John Renshaw, Chair of the BDA's Executive Board, said: "The simple truth is that we don't have enough dentists in the UK.
"For the sake of dentists and patients alike, it is vital that the government takes steps to address this problem.
"What's needed, as we have told the government repeatedly in recent years, is a significant increase in the number of undergraduate training places and the funding to support such an increase.
"Only by addressing this shortfall can we deliver the NHS dental care that patients deserve."