NHS dentistry - a Healthwatch bulletin

Our latest bulletin provides information about the current dental crisis, how Healthwatch is helping, and guidance for patients

What's in this bulletin?

  • What is behind the current crisis?
  • Your dental concerns
  • What action Healthwatch is taking 
  • Our next steps

Our bulletin is available at the bottom of this page, or click here

A dental crisis

Healthwatch England has declared that NHS dentistry is in crisis.

new survey showed that half of adults in England find dental charges unfair amid escalating living costs. 

  • 41% of people said they found it difficult to book an NHS dental appointment
  • 20% couldn’t access all the treatments they needed.
  • 24% said they had to pay privately to get all the required treatment.

The findings come as more than 2,000 dentists quit the NHS last year, according to recent data obtained by the Association of Dental Groups, suggesting a growing trend toward private provision.

Between 2019 and 2021, the number of NHS dental practitioners in the Brighton and Hove Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) fell from 187 to 168.

It is not surprisingly that requests for help to find an NHS Dentist are now the main reason why people contact the Healthwatch Brighton and Hove helpline.


What is the cause?

A combination of problems are contributing to the current problem:

  • COVID-19 led to large backlogs, which are still yet to be fully cleared.
  • delayed reforms to the current "broken" dental contract which were promised by successive governments more than 10 years ago are forcing many dental practices to go private instead, resulting in a loss of  NHS dental contracts.
  • recruitment of new dentists is insufficient. This has been affected by people retiring, overseas dentists returning home after Brexit and the pandemic, and younger dentists preferring to work part time.
  • poor patient information. All dentists are supposed to update the NHS website so that you can find a dentist near you, but only 47% have done this, leaving patients struggling to know which dentists are taking on patients.

Your dental concerns

The number of queries we received from you about dentistry rose by an astonishing 271% between 2020 to 2021. In 2022 alone, we have already received almost the same number of queries as in the whole of 2020. Your biggest problem is finding a dental practice which is taking on new NHS patients.

"I am trying to find an NHS dentist in Brighton and I have called around 30 practices on the NHS dentist list, but none are taking on new patients >18 years.”
— A patient
I’ve been on a waiting list for ... for 2 days short of a year and have issues with wisdom teeth that have required three trips to the out of hours dentist this year alone.”
— A patient

What action is Healthwatch taking?

Answering your questions

We always try our best to answer your query. We will also direct you to further sources of help and advise you if you need to make a complaint. Where possible, we can tell you of local dentists who have advised that they are taking on new NHS patients.

Get in touch

Creating a dental guide to help you

In response to your feedback, Healthwatch teams across Sussex (Brighton & Hove, East Sussex and West Sussex) worked together with local dental organisations on a detailed guide to help everyone get the treatment they need. This explains:

  • The difference between NHS and private dental care.
  • How to find and register with an NHS dentist.
  • NHS dental charges and exemptions (correct as at June 2021).
  • How to feedback or complain about a dental service.
  • Useful links and emergency dental services.

You can access our guide here 

We have also been working with local dentists which has allowed us to ask questions directly of those delivering dental services, but also to better understand the pressures dentists are facing.

And with the help of a local MP, Caroline Lucas, we have asked 12 questions in Parliament. You can read those here

Next steps

Using your feedback, we will

  • Continue to share your stories with Healthwatch England, NHS England and local dental practitioners.
  • Continue to ask questions of the Minister responsible for dentistry with the help of local MPs.
  • Continue to work with local dental groups to understand the issues they face, and to put your questions to them.
  • Work with the newly formed Integrated Care System in Sussex which, from 1st July, will assume responsibility for commissioning dental provision locally (the ICS is a new way of working across health and care in Sussex intended to bring long term benefits to local people).
  • Continue to help you, by answering your questions and providing advice.


Read our dental bulletin

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