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Last Updated: Wednesday, 30 July, 2003, 14:22 GMT 15:22 UK
Why there is a shortage of NHS dentists
The queue for the Carmarthen surgery
The queue for the Carmarthen surgery
The image of hundreds of people queuing to register with an NHS dentist provided a stark reminder of the problems people encounter in finding an NHS dentist, experts say.

The queue was prompted by the announcement that a practice in Carmarthen, Wales, could take on 300 more patients - but many more were hoping to register.

The area has been particularly hard-hit by a shortage of dentists - but dentists' leaders say similar scenes have been played out in other parts of the UK.

That picture evoked a Third World country
Dr John Renshaw, British Dental Association
Last year, the Audit Commission warned four out of 10 dentists in England and Wales would not accept new NHS patients.

It called for a reform of dental care, saying the NHS spent at least 158m on unnecessary check-ups and treatments.

Simon Williams, of the Patients' Association, told BBC News Online the scenes in Carmarthen were "ridiculous".

He said: "Things are particularly bad in rural areas, where patients can't find a dentist at all."

He said more should be done to attract dentists from the private sector into the NHS.

"It's currently just not as financially attractive to be an NHS dentist."

Wake-up

Many dentists feel they are "overworked and underpaid" in the NHS.

Dental examination
Many people cannot find an NHS dentist
Although the majority do combine NHS and private work, only better pay and conditions will attract them back in the numbers needed, leaders say.

It is estimated that the UK needs up to 4,000 more dentists.

Dr John Renshaw of the British Dental Association told BBC News Online: "That picture evoked a Third World country, where you have to queue to access what ought to be part of NHS care."

He said the image should act as a wake-up call for the government to address the shortage of NHS dentists.

Oral health

There have been moves to improve access to dental care.

Patients who cannot find an NHS dentist in their area can contact the NHS Direct helpline, which will tell them where their nearest practice is.

But this can often be in a town several miles away.

They could be persuaded - if the deal was right
Dr John Renshaw
Other ideas suggested as ways of addressing the shortage of dentists, including asking patients to come for check-ups every 12 months instead of every six.

Dr Renshaw said: "That is acceptable in the short-term."

Dr Renshaw criticised plans to bring dentists in from abroad, and said more home-trained dentists were needed.

"We need more dentists overall. The government is going to have to do something about that.

"Otherwise, there could be a long-term effect on oral health.

"We know that patients have deteriorating oral health now.

"If there continues to be a lack of availability of dental treatment, that is only going to make the problem worse."

But he said dentists wanted to take on more NHS work.

"They could be persuaded - if the deal was right.

"At the moment, the deal is not right for dentists, and they are looking to reduce their NHS dependency."


SEE ALSO:
Dentist shortage - hundreds queue
28 Jul 03  |  South West Wales
Less than half have NHS dentists
11 Apr 03  |  Health
'My search for an NHS dentist'
19 Sep 02  |  Health


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