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NHS Dentist Provision in Focus

February 2022:
An overview of my work in support of NHS Denstitry in Worthing West.

At the beginning of the month, I spoke about concerns surrounding dental provision in Worthing and Arun, linked here. This debate is the first of several similar parliamentary activities taking place this month.

Our local newspaper points out that trying to find a dentist is like trying to find a needle in a haystack. I echo this.

In my role as the Member of Parliament for Worthing West, I represent both providers of dental treatment and patients who want to access that treatment.

I have taken time in the past year to speak to dentists in my constituency to know first-hand their experiences and how the services can improve. Many have been providing NHS dental services for many decades. In past days, I have contacted them once more to gather their concerns ahead of a debate later this week.

Too many constituents have contacted my team in desperation because of their inability to access an NHS dentist or receive emergency dental treatment beyond antibiotics and pain medicine.

With determination to help residents, my team and I have spoken to NHS England, West Sussex Clinical Commissioning Group and the regional dentists’ teams. We have also listened to the British Dental Association and the General Dental Council to better understand the challenges dental services face. The reality is that information presently available online is out of date; providers are focusing increasingly on private provision and the number of NHS dental practices providing NHS dental services are decreasing, not increasing.

Most parts of the country have fewer dentists than they had in 2017 - this includes Worthing and Arun.

At the same time, more and more studies confirm what dentists have always argued: that tooth decay and gum disease are increasingly linked to a heightened risk of serious health problems such as stroke, heart disease and diabetes.

Neglecting oral health can sabotage our long-term overall health.

Decades of underfunding of dentistry have significantly contributed to today’s dental crisis and the pandemic has exacerbated already known challenges to NHS dental provision.

The government culture needs to change to accelerate appropriate funding for oral health in West Sussex and across the UK. The recent announcement of £50m is a plaster for under-investment over many tens of years.

The sooner the Government brings about the big changes needed by full co-operation with the British Dental Association and all involved in NHS dental provision, the quicker my constituents and all across the UK can access reasonable oral health provision.

Too many have suffered aching teeth and poor dental health care for too long and many risk long-term complications that need to be addressed now.