ONLY half of NHS dental patients in the region have been able to get an appointment in the last two years.
And the situation looks set to get worse as health bosses have revealed they are in discussions with yet more dental practices who intend to reduce their NHS commitment further over the coming months.
Since September 2021, 24,907 people in the region have been deregistered from NHS services.
The spiralling situation has been flagged up as a ‘major risk’ by the NHS, who say it remains one of their priorities for action.
The Dumfries and Galloway Dental Task Force continues to meet monthly and is trying to put together medium and long term plans for NHS dental care locally.
They have increased staffing on the dental helpline after a rise in call volumes from “members of the public who are understandably distressed”.
Furthermore, the taskforce is working with an unnamed practice who is keen to expand, as well as trying to recruit two dentists for a new clinic at Gardenhill, Castle Douglas, and to improve recruitment overall.
More dental students have been brought to work in the Dumfries Dental Cente and most surgeries are now fully used on weekdays.
However, waiting times for dental operations are sitting at 12 months, sometimes more, with theatres being used in both Stranraer and Dumfries hospitals and urgent pathways in place for those who are deemed at priority.
Additionally, a pilot scheme of emergency evening clinics in Dumfries and Newton Stewart has alleviated some of the daytime pressures and garnered positive feedback from patients.
Preventative work is also going on with a school and nursery toothbrushing programme underway; and an oral health website supporting self care up and running.
But chiefs are conscious that despite their efforts, people may start to turn up at accident and emergency departments with “more significant dental infections as a result of not being able to access routine NHS dental care”.
The situation is being discussed at a full meeting of Dumfries and Galloway today, where councillors will ask the health board “to ensure that all NHS registered dental patients receive the entitlement to a full check up”.
They also want more options to be explored to pilot or provide extra out-of-hours services, more dental centres and bring in new NHS salaried dentists.