Two in three patients in England have seen queues for NHS dentists worsen since Covid, MailOnline can reveal.
Our fascinating interactive map – created with the most up-to-date statistics – lays bare the reality of the never-ending crisis across all 42 NHS districts.
In the worst-affected regions, known as ‘dental deserts’, there are 2,776 patients for every one NHS dentist.
Ratios have also soared by a fifth on pre-pandemic levels in some areas, piling huge pressure on overwhelmed practices that are already juggling thousands of patients on their books.
Some Brits have been forced to pull out their own teeth with pliers or travel abroad — including to Ukraine — to see a dentist because of dire lack of NHS access.
Others have been left with no choice but to queue from 4am outside newly-opened NHS practices in hope of securing a check-up. Scenes outside one surgery in Bristol this week were described as being ‘reminiscent of Soviet-era Eastern Europe’.
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This chart shows the number of dentists who carried out NHS activity each year, the figure dropped sharply during the Covid pandemic but has slightly recovered to just over 24,000 according to the latest data
Nationally, there was one NHS dentist for every 2,342 patients in 2023, on average.
But experts say the reality is much worse, with the crisis masked by statistics which only record dentist headcounts — not how much NHS work they perform.
In essence, it means that a dentist who saw one NHS patient the entire year counts just the same as one who sought no private work.
NHS Gloucestershire recorded one dentist per 2,399 patients in 2022/2023, up from 2,011 patients per dentist in 2018/2019.
It logged the biggest hike in the dentist-patient ratio out of the entire country (19.3 per cent).
But it is NHS Norfolk and Waveney that logged the largest disparity between dentist and patient numbers (one dentist for every 2,776 patients, a 17.1 per cent increase).
Seven of the 42 integrated care boards (ICBs) across England saw rates increase by at least 10 per cent.
Only 14 ICBs saw their ratio shrink, MailOnline found.
NHS Frimley saw its ratio plunge 13 per cent in four years, to 1,358 patients per one dentist in 2022/2023, suggesting people in this area have the easiest access to dentists.
NHS Birmingham and Solihull also recorded one dentist per 1,804 patients, a 10 per cent reduction in ratio size.
The crisis in NHS dentistry has been brewing for years, with the UK now among the poorest performers for dentists per head of population in Europe.
British Dental Association (BDA) analysis last year found that more than 1,000 fewer dentists were carrying out NHS work in 2022 than there were before the pandemic.
Around 95 per cent of practices were also not accepting new NHS patients.
A spokesperson for the BDA told MailOnline: ‘This [NHS] data is a work of fiction.
‘It’s counting heads not commitment, so an NHS full timer caries the same weight as a dentist doing a single NHS checkup a year.
‘The Government is finally gathering data on how much NHS work dentists actually do. Only then will we know where the real dental deserts actually are.’
Daisy Cooper, Lib Dem health and social care spokesperson, said: ‘It should not be too much to ask that people are able to see their dentist when then need to.
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‘Instead, people are missing vital check-ups which can lead to painful consequences down the line with many unable to even get registered to an NHS dentist.
‘This Conservative government has overseen a shameful rise in dental deserts.
‘Vast swathes of the population have been completely abandoned, with a single dentist expected to cover staggering amounts of people.’
Latest figures also show roughly 26million adults haven’t had a check-up in the last two years, about 60 per cent of the population.
This is one of the lowest proportions since modern records start in 2006 when over half of adults were able to get appointments.
It comes after No10 this week unveiled its long-awaited NHS dental recovery plan, described as ‘putting NHS dentistry on a sustainable footing’.
Under Rishi Sunak’s bold blueprint to fix the appointments crisis plaguing millions, dentists will be offered up to £50 to see patients who haven’t had a check-up in the last two years.
Around 240 dentists — roughly one per cent of the current workforce — will be offered a one-off ‘golden hello’ bonus of up to £20,000 for working in under-served areas for up to three years.
‘Dental vans’ will also be rolled out in rural and coastal areas so people in the most isolated communities will still be able to access help.
The Government is also planning to controversially add fluoride to the drinking water of millions more Brits in a bid to passively protect their oral health.
Earlier this week, hundreds of desperate people — including children and the elderly — were pictured queuing outside St Pauls Dental Practice in Bristol after it opened its doors to new patients
Police were even forced to turn some patients away. Pictured, patients outside St Pauls Dental Practiceon Wednesday
But, after two full days of snaking lines, prospective patients were met with a sign on the door that said: ‘We are not enrolling anymore patients.’ Pictured, the sign outside St Pauls Dental Practice on Wednesday morning
Officials hope the measures could see up to 2.5million additional NHS appointments delivered for patients over the next 12 months.
But the plan — unveiled 10 months after it was promised — was slammed by dental bosses and politicians for not going far enough, with one saying that it amounted to ‘rearranging the deckchairs’.
Health leaders instead called for ‘radical reform’ of the dental contract, accusing Mr Sunak of U-turning on his pledge to restore the crippled industry.
Labour has also accused the Government of lifting much of the blueprint from their own plans.
NHS dentistry has been in crisis for years, with leaders claiming the sector has been chronically underfunded, making it financially unviable to carry out treatments.
Exacerbating the problem is that, as more dentists leave the NHS, those that remain become swamped by more and more patients.
Dr Paul Woodhouse, who has a dental practice in Stockton-on-Tees told BBC Radio 4 yesterday: ‘People have attempted to take their own teeth out, DIY fillings.
‘We’ve had to send people to A&E because they’ve got life threatening infections. We are back in Victorian times.’
Meanwhile, one caller, known only as Mike who lives in Dorset, said the situation was a ‘dental desert’.
He told the Today programme: ‘We lived in Surrey about 18 months ago and I had an NHS dentist. It didn’t occur to me that when we moved to East Dorset that it would be so difficult to find one.
In the new Labour ad, headlined ‘Dentistry Isn’t Working’, snaking queues of would-be patients are pictured waiting to register with the newly-opened NHS dental practice in Bristol
Saatchi & Saatchi designed the famous poster for the Tory Party ahead of the 1979 general election, which saw Margaret Thatcher run against Labour prime minister James Callaghan
‘When we arrived I tried to find one. There was nobody taking on NHS patients. I was amazed to find they wouldn’t even put you on a waiting list.
‘I’ve tried to use the NHS website. After having some tooth pain I had an emergency appointment and had to go and pay privately.
‘I was simply told that the nearest place I might get a walk-in appointment was Southampton. That’s an hour and a half to an hour and three-quarters drive.
‘East Dorset is essentially a dental desert as far as I’m concerned and I still don’t have one.’
Earlier this week, hundreds of desperate people — including children and the elderly — were pictured queuing outside St Pauls Dental Practice in Bristol after it opened its doors to new patients.
But, after two full days of snaking lines, prospective patients were met with a sign on the door that said: ‘We are not enrolling anymore patients.’ Police were even forced to turn some patients away.
Labour used the footage to slam the Government’s dentistry record, repurposing the Tory’s famous 1970s ‘Labour Isn’t Working’ ad with the new headline ‘Dentistry isn’t working’.