Lack of NHS dentists see people resorting to 'Victorian' teeth pulling

Toothless in Huntingdon is demanding NHS dental treatment for everyone.

Toothless in Huntingdon is demanding NHS dental treatment for everyone. - Credit: HEALTHWATCH

A group called Toothless in Huntingdon has launched a campaign to address the huge shortages in NHS treatment available across the district.

Local activist Simon Brignell set up the group late last year and says he already has more than 200 members.

Evidence so far reveals testimonies from residents across Huntingdonshire who say they have had to wait months for routine check-ups for themselves or their children.

Many others have not been able to register with an NHS dentist or have been unexpectedly taken off their registers without notice.

A Healthwatch Cambridgeshire report released in 2019 shows that between 2017 and 2018, more than 14,000 patients were turned away with the highest numbers in Wisbech and Peterborough. The figure for Huntingdon alone was 2,699. 

Data recently obtained from NHS England and NHS Wales and released on January 20, 2022 shows more than 2,500 dentists - nearly eight per cent of the workforce - stopped treating NHS patients last year.

Across Cambridgeshire and Huntingdonshire, that figure is higher than the national average at nine per cent - almost one in 10.

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Other reports show the scale of the dental crisis pre-dates the coronavirus pandemic and that the worst is yet to come.

Spokesman and founder of Toothless in Huntingdon, Simon Brignell says, “These figures unfortunately reflect what locals have been telling us.

"Many haven’t been able to book a routine check-up with an NHS dentist, some for years. Those who can afford to,  have had to go private whilst others have resorted to more Victorian methods, such as removing their own teeth. It’s very distressing to hear about."

Simon says a resident from St Ives who was interviewed on a local radio station had even resorted to fabricating their own teeth.

Patient groups and some MP’s as far back as 2008 declared the NHS dental contract not fit for purpose.

This is the root of the problem and the cause of the crisis, according to Toothless in England campaigners.

They say that in the 14 years since, dentists are still having to deal with a contract system that puts targets over patient care, with funding at 30 per cent less than it was more than 10 years ago. And with not a single penny of the Government’s spending review last year allocated for NHS dentistry.

Toothless Facebook groups up and down the country are full of posts from patients sharing their stories.

It is not uncommon to read of people taking matters into their own hands by drinking a bottle of whisky before they pull out their own teeth or lancing an abscess with a needle to relieve the pressure and pain, all because they cannot find anyone to treat them.

Also, pregnant mothers and patients undergoing cancer treatment suffering severe pain unable get treatment is commonplace.

Toothless in England are planning a national day of action later in the year which will see patients protesting and lobbying constituency MP’s and Government ministers.

Shawn Charlwood, Chairman of the British Dental Association's General Dental Practice Committee, added: “It’s clear that NHS dentistry is hanging by a thread. Every practice struggling to fill vacancies translates into thousands of patients unable to access care.

"Years of failed contracts and underfunding have meant a growing number of dentists no longer see the NHS as a place to build a career. The pandemic has upped the ante, and we are now facing down an exodus.

"Ministers have failed to grasp that we can't have NHS dentistry without NHS dentists. Rather than punishing colleagues, we need a service that recognises and rewards commitment.

"Millions stand to lose out if the government fail to deliver needed reform."

Toothless in England acts as the hub for a network of 'Toothless' campaign groups across the country which began in Suffolk last year (2021) after both of Leiston’s dental practices closed their doors for the final time leaving the town that has more than 6,000 residents without local access to an essential NHS dental service. 

Toothless in England has six demands which builds on its determination to ensure there is "an NHS dentist for everyone."

1. An NHS dentist for everyone;

2. Reforms to the NHS dental contract that will encourage dentists to provide NHS treatments;

3. Revenue to cover the 50 per cent of the population who are unfunded by the Government;

4. NHS dental treatments to be free at the point of use;

5. People to be prioritised before shareholder dividend - no more privatisation;

6. An end to the two-tier system - hygienists, routine check-ups and preventative treatments must be a core NHS function.

INFO: Contact Simon at: or find the Huntingdon group on Facebook.