Accessing dental treatment in the NE and NC

Experiences of NHS dentistry

Tell us your experience of NHS dentistry

People have been telling us about the challenges they face getting NHS dentistry.

Using your feedback we are working with the NHS Integrated Care Board in the North East and North Cumbria to help shape future services, including planning the next phase of the NHS dental recovery plan in the region.

Across the North East and North Cumbria, the local Healthwatch network is working together to tackle this important issue.

So if you live in Northumberland or anywhere else in the North East and North Cumbria region and have recent experiences with using or trying to access dental services, then share your experiences with us.

We are the independent champion for users of health and care services in Northumberland. Your responses will inform decision-makers in the North East and North Cumbria NHS Integrated Care Board (who are funding this research), service providers and partners including Local Authority Public Health teams.

As a thank you for your time we are offering £100 of Love2shop vouchers to a lucky prize draw winner.

If you require a paper copy or have any questions please get in touch.

Please leave your feedback before Sunday 31 March 2024.

This survey has now closed

NHS dentistry in Northumberland

NHS dentistry in Northumberland

As part of our work on NHS dentistry services in Northumberland, we, along with 29 other Local Healthwatch, made a formal submission to the House of Commons Health and Social Care Committee.  The committee has now published the submissions.

The Chair of the Committee, Conservative MP Steve Brine, was interviewed on the BBC Radio 4 PM programme on 6 March. The item is at 38 minutes in, with reference to Local Healthwatch just after 42 minutes.

In the interview Mr Brine says “We’ve had hundreds of pieces of written evidence from trade bodies, professionals, charities, people working in the profession, but quite a lot of it has been from local Healthwatch and from patients themselves, telling some pretty painful stories of…DIY dentistry…home tooth extractions, people tying shoelaces to teeth…”

At the Overview and Scrutiny Committee meeting on 7 March, our Project Coordinator Derry Nugent, urged local elected members to encourage their residents to contact us for issues such as this, which can only be fixed at national level.

NHS dentistry in Northumberland continues to be difficult to access, especially in the Berwick area. If you are in pain and need to see a dentist urgently, please call NHS 111.

Please keep sharing your experiences of NHS dental care, so that we can keep making sure these are heard by those paying for services.


dental services Berwick

Dental services in Berwick

With the MyDentist practice in Castlegate closing at the end of September 2022, we have been hearing concerns from patients in Berwick about the provision of NHS dental services.

NHS England has given us the following messages for residents of Berwick and the wider area.

  • NHS England is acutely aware of the difficulties patients are experiencing in accessing NHS dental care following the closure of the practice in Berwick.
  • NHS England is looking at short term solutions to increase access for patients requiring urgent dental care whilst it works on the longer-term solution of securing a new NHS provider in Berwick, both of which are dependent on the availability of the dental workforce.
  • Berwick has not been forgotten and NHS England is trying hard to find alternative dentists or services to fill the gap. This includes approaching dentists in other parts of the county to see if they can offer any additional capacity.
  • In the meantime, the best advice is to use NHS111 for urgent or emergency treatment. If after clinical triage, your dental problem is not assessed as being clinically urgent, you will be asked to contact an NHS dental practice and/or given self-care advice until an appointment can be offered.
  • When contacting an NHS dental practice it is important that you tell the practice up front what the problem is so that they can determine the urgency of the dental need. NHS England is asking dental providers to prioritise those patients in greatest need into their available appointment slots.
  • NHS dental providers will soon be required update the NHS website with availability of NHS provision as part of some recently announced reforms.
  • Other changes to come out of the dental contract reform programme include making it easier for practices to use the skills of dental therapists and hygienists to undertake some of the work currently done by dentists. This will free up dentist time to focus on patients with more complex treatment needs.
  • The frequency in which you need to attend a dentist for a check-up is based on your oral health – if your teeth and gums are healthy, you may not need to attend as often and this could be up to two years for those with good oral health.

Here at Healthwatch Northumberland we will continue to monitor the experience of patients in the area, make NHS England aware of ongoing issues and press for positive outcomes.

If you would like to tell us about your experiences of dental services please get in touch.



Dentistry in Northumberland since March 2020

The COVID-19 crisis has affected many areas of the NHS both locally and nationally. One significant issue that people have raised nationally is about access to dental care.

Data from the Department of Health highlights that almost 1,000 dentists working in 2,500 roles across England and Wales left the NHS last year. This is having an adverse effect on members of the public being able to see a local dentist for both regular check-ups and when emergency treatment is needed. Not only has this been frustrating, but many people have been left in pain or discomfort as a result. Some individuals have been offered the option of having private treatment, but this is not affordable for many.

Without improved access to NHS dental care, not only do people risk facing greater dental problems in the future, pressure will increase on overstretched hospitals and GPs. Untreated dental problems can lead to pain, infection and the exacerbation of other health conditions such as heart and lung disease and stroke. This national picture is echoed in Northumberland, and throughout the second half of 2021 we received feedback from the public that accessing NHS dental services was very difficult, whether registering with an NHS dentist or getting treatment.

With the need to now have lull time in the consulting room between patients, due to COVID-safe guidelines, there is no longer the capacity within NHS dental services to meet their targets, let alone deal with the backlog of appointments that didn’t go ahead due to the lockdown.

Following an initial meeting between Healthwatch Northumberland, Healthwatch North Tyneside, Healthwatch Newcastle, Healthwatch Gateshead and Healthwatch South Tees, the opportunity to work collaboratively with local Healthwatch partners across the North East was offered to all local Healthwatch. Collectively we agreed that there is a need for better access, to NHS dental services, but that this needed surveying and reporting both locally and on a regional basis.

Three other local Healthwatch joined the group: Healthwatch Hartlepool, Healthwatch Stockton-on-Tees and Healthwatch Darlington. These eight teams from the North East and North Cumbria Healthwatch Network agreed to undertake a joint project to understand the concerns of their respective local communities.

The aim of the study was to determine whether accessing NHS dental services is being raised by a small number of people having a problem or whether it is a more widespread issue. If it is a widespread issue, then to use our findings to:

  • Influence the North East and North Cumbria Integrated Care System (NE&NC ICS), local service providers, and NHS England to improve access to NHS dentistry.
  • Inform the national picture through sharing our findings with Healthwatch England who are calling for reform of the NHS dental contract alongside the British Dental Association (BDA).
  • Support improved information for patients regarding NHS dentistry.

Read our findings and recommendations below:

Experiences with dentistry in Northumberland since March 2020


Healthwatch Dentistry Report

Access to NHS dental care continues to be a problem for people across England, with Healthwatch recording a 22% rise in calls and complaints about dentistry between January and March 2021.

Healthwatch England’s review of 1,375 people’s experiences found a lack of consistency across the country when it comes to accessing a dental appointment. Whilst some people were asked to wait an unreasonable time of up to three years for an NHS appointment, those able to afford private care could get an appointment within a week.

High cost of dental care

Whilst some people were charged £400 to get one tooth out, an individual reported being asked to pay over £7,000 for their dentures privately. But private treatment is not an option for everyone, with many people now struggling to pay even for NHS treatment. A poll of 2,019 adults commissioned by Healthwatch England found 61% of respondents felt that NHS dental treatments were expensive. The poll, which looked at people’s experiences of NHS dentistry during the pandemic and how it has impacted their future habits, found the following:

People’s experiences of NHS dental charges

  • Over a quarter (27%) of respondents said they either struggle to pay or avoid dental treatments altogether because they cannot afford the costs.
  • About one in three (30%) have reported they felt pressured into paying private fees to get all the dental treatment they needed. And nearly two in five (39%) reported that they had been charged extra for their NHS treatments.
  • Almost a quarter (23%) feel they will now visit the dentist only when they need treatment, despite clinical guidelines recommending regular dental check-ups to keep people’s mouths healthy.
  • Demographic groups who have been affected the most by the lack of NHS dental appointments and NHS dental fees include people on low incomes and those from ethnic minority groups – the same groups who have been worst hit by the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Calling for equitable and affordable dental care

Reform of dentistry has been underway since 2009. Earlier this year, it was announced that NHS England would be taking over the process from the Department of Health and Social Care, but reform plans have yet to be announced.

In a recent report on the future of the NHS, the Lancet Commission stressed ‘an absence of affordability is a major barrier to dental care’ and suggested an abolition of patients’ co-payments to access and receive dental care.

We call for greater ambition and urgency from NHS dental reform plans to create more equitable and affordable dental care.

Imelda Redmond CBE, National Director of Healthwatch England, said “The twin crisis of access and affordability hitting NHS dentistry means many people are not able to access timely care – and the poorest are hardest hit. Those human stories show that oral health is a social justice and equity issue.

Reform of dental contracts needs to be a matter of urgency for this government. New arrangements should include making access to NHS dental services equal and affordable for everyone, regardless of where people live, their income and ethnicity. Failing to act now will result in long-term harm for thousands of people, putting even greater pressure on the already overstretched healthcare system.”

Income and regional disparities

Almost twice as many people from lower socio-economic groups (SEG) D and E struggle or can’t afford to pay NHS dental charges (37%) than people from the higher socio-economic group, A, (19%). As a result, people from SEG D and E are also twice as likely to avoid dental care due to affordability issues.

People living in the North East of England are the most likely to avoid NHS dental treatment due to costs (13%), compared with just one in 30 (3%) who live in the South West. Despite this, people in the North East have been charged for NHS dental treatments the most (29%), while people in the South West were charged the least (13%).

People from ethnic minority groups

Just over a quarter of people from ethnic minority communities (26%) reported they would go to the dentist for regular check-ups, compared to two in five (41%) of White people.  The survey also found that people aged over 55 from ethnic minority groups who are on low incomes were six times more likely to report avoiding dental treatments due to costs than their White counterparts.


If you would like to tell us your experiences of dental care over the last 12 months please get in touch.

Public concerns about dentistry continue

New data gathered by Healthwatch England shows access to NHS dentistry remains a huge problem for the public amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Healthwatch continues to hear concerns about dentistry which were highlighted at the end of last year in the Dentistry and the impact of COVID-19 report after a 452% rise in calls and complaints over the summer (July – September).
In a follow-up review, Healthwatch looked at 1,129 people’s experiences of accessing dental care received between October and December 2020 and found:
  • Access to dentistry was difficult for more than seven in 10 people (72%), with some people actively seeking dental treatment being told they would have to wait anywhere between a few months to, in one case, two years for an appointment.
  • Access to urgent NHS treatment was difficult for people with painful teeth, with patients being told that dental pain was not considered an “emergency”, and for those who were prescribed multiple courses of antibiotics by NHS 111 without being provided any further treatment.
  • Examples of the extreme lengths some people went to, to get treatment, include calling over 40 practices to find an NHS dentist, and pulling their own teeth out when they couldn’t bear the pain.
  • When dentists couldn’t offer an appointment, they advised people to buy dental repair kits to treat themselves.

The findings come after some MPs and the British Dental Association called on the Government to scrap its new targets for NHS dentists, which require them to deliver 45% of their pre-pandemic levels of dental activity.

There are concerns this is likely to push practices into prioritising appointments such as check-ups over emergency or more complex longer treatments.

Healthwatch’s findings also suggest that patients are being told that although NHS appointments are not available, they can be treated privately. This creates a real barrier for everyone, and in particular for people on low income, to receive vital treatment.

Tell us about your experience of dental care during the pandemic here or text 07413 385275 and one of our friendly team will call you back.

Covid-19 and NHS dental care

Healthwatch England is calling for action to address widespread issues with access to NHS dental care following an unprecedented surge in concerns. Healthwatch experienced a 452% increase in feedback on the issue in the second quarter of the year, with continuing accounts of people being left in pain, resorting to ‘DIY’ repair methods and in some cases even extracting their own teeth.

The review of 1,300 people’s experiences of accessing dental care found that:

  • More than 7 in 10 people (73%) found it difficult to access help and support when they needed it.
  • Access issues were caused by dentists not taking on NHS patients, as well as conflicting advice from different parts of the NHS about what help is available.
  • Many people were offered treatment if they went private, despite research indicating that 40% of people would struggle to afford private dental care.
  • The impact of not being able to access care led many people to experience pain, discomfort and further complications.

The increase in feedback comes after the British Dental Association reported that treatments delivered by NHS dental services in England are at a quarter of pre-COVID levels, with over 14.5 million fewer procedures taking place.

Laura Floyd, from West Berkshire, was part-way through significant dental treatment when it was cancelled due to the lockdown in March. The new mother explained: “As we went from April to May, I had an abscess develop on the tooth which was still awaiting treatment. I did receive care over the phone and a course of antibiotics which helped ease some of the pain and swelling but this never fully went away, I just lived with it as cautiously as I could. Sadly my eight-month-old wasn’t as cautious when reaching out and grabbing my face!”

Laura, who was entitled to free NHS dental care for 12 months after the birth of her child, did then receive some emergency treatment for a further painful cavity but is still waiting for her main treatment to be completed a year on from her initial diagnosis.

Sir Robert Francis QC, Chair of Healthwatch England, said: “The COVID-19 crisis has impacted on many areas of NHS support but, problems in dental care appear to be particularly acute.

“Even before the pandemic, people were telling us about problems in accessing NHS dental appointments but since the start of the summer these reports have hugely increased.

“If we don’t improve access to NHS dental care, not only do people risk facing far greater dental problems in the future but it also puts pressure on overstretched hospitals and GPs. Untreated dental problems can lead to pain, infection and the risk of long-term harm, which is comparable with other medical conditions.

“Health and care services are working hard to deal with the pandemic, but we believe the Government and the NHS should give more attention to resolving both long-standing and COVID-related issues in dentistry.”

While the report accepts that the overall treatment backlog caused by the pandemic will take time to clear due to limited industry capacity and COVID-related restrictions, it makes several recommendations including:

  • providing more accurate and up-to-date information for patients
  • providing clarity over NHS dentists’ obligations relating to patient registration
  • making more resources available to improve patient access to
    dental care and;
  • reviewing the overall cost to patients of NHS dental care, particularly with a 5% price increase set to take effect before Christmas.

Healthwatch is also calling for people on low incomes who are forced to travel long distances to access dental care to be reimbursed.

Read more on the Healthwatch England website

If you would like to tell us about your experience of accessing dental care during the pandemic you can tell us your story here.