Is there a shortage of dentists?

We all know how important it is to look after our teeth with regular dental check ups, but it can sometimes seem like getting a dentist appointment is more hassle than it’s worth. If you’re struggling to get an appointment for yourself or a loved one, you might wonder why that is. Keep reading to learn more.

Is there a shortage of dentists in the UK?

The simple answer is yes. There are not enough qualified, UK-registered dentists in the country to meet demand. Even the best dentist can only take on so many appointments in a day, so there are limited slots available – and these can be impacted by procedures running over due to, for example, someone’s teeth being in worse condition than previously thought[1].

Why is there a shortage of dentists?

Healthcare is renowned for being an emotionally challenging sector to work in, and while dentists are rarely involved in life-or-death cases, that doesn’t make it an easy job to do. The medical knowledge required to become a dentist takes about seven years to fully learn, meaning people can usually qualify for other jobs quicker and start earning sooner. On top of that, dentists who are overworked or have become otherwise disillusioned with the profession leave to do other jobs – meaning fewer practising dentists to go around. Some even emigrate to other countries to live abroad, taking their valuable skills with them.

We mentioned earlier that there aren’t enough UK-registered dentists to fulfil demand. Of course, many dentists qualify overseas and later come to the UK to work. Unfortunately, overseas qualifications aren’t seen as fully equal to UK-based qualifications in dentistry. In order to work as a dentist, people with overseas qualifications have to take registration examinations to become UK-registered. Despite the general need for more dentists, accessing these registration examinations is difficult and many don’t get this opportunity.

Because of this shortage of dentists, lots of practices are at full capacity, meaning they aren’t taking on any new patients until there is a vacancy. This can unfortunately mean that, when a place does become available for new patients to register, competition is high to get your foot in the door. Switching from NHS to private dental care may make it easier to get an appointment when you need one, but for many, it’s an additional cost that’s simply impossible to manage for those who are already struggling to make ends meet.

Efforts are being made across the country to solve this issue, but it’s a slow process and in the meantime, getting hold of a dentist appointment can be difficult[1].

How to look after your teeth to avoid needing a dentist

Part of looking after your teeth involves getting regular check ups from your dentist to get an expert opinion and make sure everything is as it should be. If you can’t get an appointment, though, you can’t get a check up, which makes it even more important to look after your teeth in other ways. Doing so can help to prevent you from needing a dentist for something more serious such as gum disease or cavities – which has the added benefit of saving you money in the long run. With price rises locking many out of accessing NHS or private dental care, prevention can be the best way to save money and keep your teeth healthy and pain-free[2].

Below, we’ve listed our three dentist approved top tips to help you keep your teeth in the best possible condition at home.

Adopt a good oral hygiene routine

We all know the importance of an effective oral hygiene routine, but do you know the step-by-step method to use? Here’s a reminder, just in case:

1. Inside

Use floss picks or interdental brushes to clean between your teeth, dislodging plaque and food particles as you go. Dentek’s Triple Clean Floss Picks have extra strong textured floss and a fluoride coating to keep your teeth clean. As much as 40% of the tooth can’t be cleaned just with a toothbrush, so this step is vital. Do this before brushing to get the best results.

2. Outside

Time to get out your toothbrush and start scrubbing. An electric toothbrush is best, but whether you use electric or manual, make sure to brush well for at least two minutes, twice a day. To make the most of your toothpaste’s benefits, don’t rinse your mouth out after brushing. This gives the toothpaste more time to get to work.

 

3. Upside

You’ve cleaned in and around your teeth, but don’t forget to clean your tongue. Believe it or not, your tongue is the home of 50% of the bacteria in your mouth, accounting for nine out of ten cases of bad breath. If you don’t clean your tongue, that bacteria can spread to your teeth and cause decay and cavities – but fortunately, a good tongue clean only takes 30 seconds! Using a tongue scraper to gently brush your tongue dislodges food and bacteria, helping to keep your mouth cleaner. Dentek’s Orabrush Tongue Scraper is modelled on a dental surgeon’s scrub brush, with a long handle specialised for reaching deep into the mouth to loosen and remove bacteria.

Staying away from home without your tongue cleaner? Don’t worry. In a pinch, you can use a toothbrush – just remember to switch off your electric toothbrush before you get started.

4. Done!

Complete this routine twice a day, and your mouth will feel cleaner in no time[2].

Eat a healthy diet

What you eat can have a big impact on your oral health. Foods which are acidic or sugary can attack the enamel coating of your teeth, effectively tearing down their defences and making it easier for problems like tooth decay and cavities to develop. Of course, that’s not to say that you should never have anything sweet or sour, but have them in moderation. Rinsing your mouth with water after eating can help to reduce the effects of these foods, as well as keeping your mouth cleaner in general[2].

Use dental guards

Another threat to your dental health is tooth-grinding, also known as bruxism. In short, when your teeth grind against each other, whether because of stress or an unconscious habit, the enamel wears down, leaving your teeth open to sensitivity and damage. You may be able to stop grinding your teeth by consciously changing your habits, but this can take time, and it’s not easy to stop grinding your teeth in your sleep.

In the meantime, try mouth guards such as Dentek’s Maximum Protection Dental Guards, which relieve discomfort and protect your teeth by cushioning them. With a slim, custom fit, mouldable guard, these dental guards are similar to those sold by dentists, so you can be sure you’re making the right choice for your teeth. Buying a DenTek dental guard can be much more affordable than buying through a dental surgery, adding an extra burden to your stretched funds as the cost of living increases[3].

What to do if you can’t get a dental appointment when you need one

Accidents happen. If you need urgent dental care, but you can’t get an appointment through the usual channels, contact your surgery and ask for an emergency dentist appointment. They should be able to help you, or signpost you to another surgery that has availability. This applies even if it’s outside the usual working hours – if they don’t provide out of hours treatment themselves, your surgery’s voicemail should instruct you on where you can get help. In the meantime, you can use paracetamol or ibuprofen to soothe pain.

If your usual dentist can’t help, or you’re not currently registered with a dental surgery, you can use the NHS website to find dentists near you. All you need to do is input your postcode or town and you’ll get a list of local dentist surgeries in order of proximity, including information about whether or not they’re accepting new patients.

If you’re looking for advice and support with a dental issue, and you’re struggling to get it locally, you can get in touch with the Oral Health Foundation, a UK-based charity that aims to improve oral health for all. As well as offering support, they also have lots of information about dental health and what you can do to help keep your teeth in good condition.

If you need dental treatment and your problem is very serious, you may be able to get help at A&E. This applies if you have:

  • Injuries to your teeth, mouth or face
  • Heavy bleeding
  • Severe swelling of the mouth, throat, lips, eye or neck areas

Some problems aren’t urgent, so you may be asked to manage the symptoms until the next available appointment. If, for example, your filling has come out, you can use a repair kit such as Dentek’s Temparin Max Tooth Repair Kit. This will provide a temporary solution that should help you to eat and drink as normal while you wait for your dentist appointment.

If you’re in any doubt about what to do when you need dental treatment but can’t get an appointment, call NHS 111 for advice and where they may be able to get you access to see a local dentist[4].

Resources:

[1] https://www.reuters.com/business/healthcare-pharmaceuticals/uk-dental-system-decays-surging-numbers-seek-treatment-abroad-2023-12-11/

[2] https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/healthy-teeth-and-gums/how-to-keep-your-teeth-clean/

[3] https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/teeth-grinding/

[4] https://www.nhs.uk/nhs-services/dentists/how-can-i-access-an-nhs-dentist-in-an-emergency-or-out-of-hours/

Neil Kotak
31/8/2023
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