Nearly a third of people in Suffolk have not been able to get dental appointments amid "alarming" new figures around the county's dentistry decline. 

Ipswich councillors met last week to discuss the ongoing issue, which has previously raised comments the county is a "dental desert". 

Cllr Jessica Fleming presented to the health scrutiny committee that dental treatments in Suffolk have plummeted 60 per cent since 2020-21, from 549,000 before the pandemic to 224,300.

The statistics also highlighted 31 per cent of the Suffolk population was not able to get a dental appointment, compared to 9 per cent for the rest of England.

This is despite Suffolk GPs reporting a 100 per cent increase in the need for urgent dental support since March 2020.

The University of Suffolk is set to launch at the end of this year 10 fully-equipped dental surgery units in the James Hehir building, with the aim of creating 18,000 hours of NHS-only dental appointments a year.

Part of the councillors’ discussion involved systematic problems in how the dental industry works in the UK, particularly regarding pay.

Cllr Tony Blacker said: “These figures are alarming — as of yesterday, not a single dental practice in Suffolk is taking NHS patients, except for one.

“The dentists feel it doesn’t cover their costs. It’s not that they’re not being paid enough, they have to pay to see a NHS patient. Nobody in the right mind is going to do that.”

One area the meeting discussed was the impact of The Units of Dental Activity (UDA) which forms part of the NHS dental contract and represents the value given to specific courses of treatment. 

However, the work being done by dentists is oftentimes grouped into the same UDA band. This means dentists are sometimes paid the same for some procedures regardless of how challenging they are.

It has proven a key point why many practices have chosen to go private. 

Cllr Fleming added: “The way the UDA system operates is not fit for purpose and changing it is not easy, but it really does need to change.

“The NHS system doesn’t always reward dentists for something challenging. Some procedures are not funded by the NHS but are vital for someone to keep their teeth.”

At the meeting, councillors brought up the idea of the possible introduction of a period where dentist graduates had to work for the NHS.

This, however, was not followed by any mitigating factors regarding the graduate’s loss of agency.

Dentistry is due to come back to the table for councillors over the coming months as more information regarding ICB performance comes out.

Cllr Fleming said: “It’s a complex problem — we lose so many of our dentists, doctors, and other medical professionals and what we can do about is outside our capacity.”