October 17, 2007 in Nation/World

Britons pulling their own teeth

Thomas Wagner Associated Press
 

LONDON – A shortage of National Health Service dentists in England has led some people to pull out their own teeth – or use super glue to stick crowns back on, a study says.

Many dentists abandoned Britain’s publicly funded health care system after reforms backfired, leaving a growing number of Britons without access to affordable care.

“I was not surprised to hear those horror stories,” said Celestine Bridgeman, 41, of London. “Trying to find good NHS dentists is like trying to hit the lottery because the service is underfunded.”

The National Health Service provides care to the vast majority of Britain’s people, often for free. Unlike doctors who work for the health service, dentists work on a contract basis and can leave whenever they wish.

Though private treatment by dentists is available, the tradition of publicly funded care means most people rely on it. But now there are fewer dentists to see patients.

In April 2006, the government reformed National Health Service dentistry in an effort to increase patients’ access to treatment and to simplify payments. Dentists objected, complaining it reduced income. Some dentists cut the number of health service patients – or stopped taking them altogether.

Forty-five percent of dentists surveyed said they no longer accept National Health Service patients.

“This survey underlines the significant problems caused by both dentists and patients by the new dental contract,” said Susie Sanderson, executive board chairwoman of the British Dental Association, a trade union of thousands of dentists.

“The picture it paints, of patients unable to access care … and anxieties about the new charging system, is an all too familiar one,” she said.

The study released Monday by the commission contained no figures detailing the National Health Service dental shortage. But earlier this year, then-Health Minister Rosie Winterton told Parliament more than 2 million people were unable to find an NHS dentist.

The survey of 5,212 patients and 750 dentists in England found 6 percent of patients resorted to self-treatment, including one person who extracted 14 of his teeth with pliers. Other patients reported using super glue on crowns after they popped off, the study said.

“These findings indicate that the NHS dental system is letting many patients down very badly,” said Sharon Grant, chairman of the Commission for Patient and Public Involvement in Health, the independent body that commissioned the study.

The survey found nearly 20 percent of patients have gone without dental treatment because of the cost. Thirty-five percent of those not now using dental services said they cannot find an NHS dentist near where they live.

“It felt like being put on the streets when my NHS dentist changed to private,” the survey quoted one unidentified patient as saying.

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