Local Healthwatch experts have written to MPs to complain about the serious lack of NH dental provision in Milton Keynes.
Healthwatch, which is the statutory, independent public champion for people receiving health services in MK, say they have received numerous complaints from members of the public unable to access dental care and unable to afford private dentistry.
They say dental care is a "key public health priority" and are urging the MPs to raise awareness in parliament of the problems Milton Keynes people are facing.
Healthwatch chief executive officer Maxine Taffetani has written to Iain Stewart, the MP for Milton Keynes South, and Ben Everitt, who is MP for MK North,
She wrote: "Between June and August 2021 Healthwatch Milton Keynes has received over 70 calls and emails
from residents of Milton Keynes unsuccessfully seeking NHS dentist treatment.
"The high call volume on this issue is sadly the tip of the iceberg. Social platforms such as local Nextdoor and Facebook networks are filled with members of the public reaching out to each other in search of dental practices offering NHS treatments."
Maxine added: "According to the NHS website, to which we commonly signpost residents to find information about
services available to them, only one dental practice in Milton Keynes is accepting new child patients and no dental practice is accepting new adult NHS patients, including the new 8-8 dental service recently commissioned to increase NHS treatment availability."
She said local dentists were under considerable pressure at this stage in the Covid-19 pandemic.
"This stems largely from an issue of business sustainability: namely, to prioritise patients who can pay privately
for their dental care, and at the same time to manage patient demand against the requirement to implement lengthy and rigorous infection control measures designed to reduce the spread of Covid-19.
"Dentists are expending their Units of Dental Activity (UDAs) as provided within the NHS contracts at a greater rate due to a higher acuity in patients presenting for treatment which in turn diminishes capacity to support preventative dental care for people on lower incomes. Any work over 102% of the NHS contract that a dental practitioner undertakes on NHS patients is not reimbursed, and if the practitioner underdelivers against the contract, the funds are subject to a ‘clawback’.
Currently, Healthwatch is only able to signpost patients to 111 and advise them to request a dental triage.
"However, only the most clinically urgent cases will receive support and residents may need to travel out of area to receive treatment, meaning that people on lower incomes may struggle to afford the costs of transport," said Maxine.
"One resident spoke to us after being given an appointment for urgent dental treatment in High Wycombe, but due to their poor physical health and inability to afford transport for the distance required to travel, they were unable to access the treatment offered.
"We heard recently from another resident of Milton Keynes who told us that because of their broken teeth, damaged as a result of domestic violence, they were struggling to find the confidence to apply for and interview for jobs and that this was affecting their mental health. Since the resident experienced no pain or infection in the broken teeth, the NHS considered this to be a cosmetic problem and, under current conditions, no cosmetic appointments of this type are available through the NHS."
Yet Healthwatch say access to preventative dental care is a key public health priority and poor oral health is directly linked to poor physical health and is detrimental to overall health.
The Chief Executive of the British Dental Health foundation, Dr Nigel Carter, says: "The link between oral health and overall body health is well documented and backed by robust scientific evidence. Despite this, only one in six people realise that people with gum disease may have an increased risk of stroke or diabetes. And only one in three is aware of the heart disease link."
Gum disease has also been linked to a variety of health problems, including diabetes and rheumatoid arthritis.
In the UK, tooth decay is still the most common cause of admission to hospital in five to nine year olds.
Healthwatch has been working with regional NHS dental commissioners to highlight the issues MK is experiencing and has facilitated contact between regional commissioners and the Integrated Care System (ICS/BLMKCCG).
"We have also introduced the local dental committee to the Bedfordshire, Luton and Milton Keynes Long Term Conditions Lead, which has resulted in the development of a pilot to embed dentistry into the diabetes treatment pathways. But we believe that the situation needs a wider exposure," said Maxine.
She added: NHS dental contracts are in urgent need of review and reform. Payments within NHS dental
contracts per unit of treatment, to each provider, vary from £20 to £40 and when we have challenged this with commissioners, we have been told that the contracts are historic and in perpetuity.
"The NHS patient charge is not retained by the dentist but is paid to the NHS to offset the cost of the UDA. NHS dental contracts should ensure that units of treatment payments are costed appropriately so that dental practices can reasonably afford to provide an NHS dental offer that is proportionate the growing population in Milton Keynes and to those patients on lower incomes struggling to access both preventative and acute dental care.
The letter concludes: "We would respectfully ask you to help raise awareness at a national level, both within Parliament and outside, of this significant problem that Milton Keynes residents are facing."