When do you go to the dentist? Do you put it off until your teeth hurt? Or do you go every six months without fail? Or perhaps you’re somewhere in between.
Whatever your relationship with the dentist, you expect to be able to be able to make an NHS appointment when you want one. And the good news is that most people can.
59% of respondents to the national GP survey had tried to get an NHS dental appointment in the last two years and 93% of them were successful in doing so.
It’s important that people can get the care and advice they need so that they don’t develop problems with their teeth in the first place. When they can’t get an appointment or services aren’t made available to them, they can be left in pain or without check-ups to help avoid tooth problems at a later stage.
Today we share a report detailing what local Healthwatch have heard from people across the country about their views on dentistry. We have reviewed 31 reports written by the network about people’s experiences of dentistry and we found that there are three areas requiring particular attention.
We learnt that in some parts of the country, people still have real trouble getting appointments with NHS dentists. We also heard that there are real gaps in provision for particular groups, such as those in care homes, people with disabilities, refugees and people who are homeless.
In some instances, commissioning arrangements for dentistry are not keeping up with changes in demand, leaving people without access to the dental care they need. Local Healthwatch are well placed to work with NHS England and other relevant bodies to identify where such gaps exist to help ensure people can go to the dentist when they need to.
Mixed information given to patients about how frequently they should go to the dentist means that some people could be going too often, and others not often enough. 62% of people in our poll who had visited an NHS or private dentist were advised to go back within six months, and a further 20% were advised to return in a year.
However, the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence says that for adults with healthy mouths and teeth, a visit once every two years is enough. Better information for patients could help free up appointments for people who need them more, and save time and money for people who have healthy teeth and gums.
It’s vital that all parts of health and social care learn from people’s experiences – both good and bad. We found that some dental practices are not sharing adequate information about how people can go about making a complaint about their service, meaning that opportunities to improve are being missed. And it’s not just patients who find the complaints system confusing.
With overlapping responsibilities for different kinds of complaint, and most high street dentists providing both NHS and private treatment, it’s not surprising that some professionals do too. We’re therefore working together to try and improve everybody’s understanding.
A new NHS dental contract is being developed that will focus on helping people look after their teeth to avoid problems in the future. However, we believe there is much that could be done to improve people’s experiences now.
We are sharing this review to help dental professionals better understand people’s experiences, to inform the development of future services, and help make sure that people’s feedback is listened to and acted on.