One of the UK's biggest counties has been left without a single NHS dentist – and residents are starting to complain about their rotting teeth.
Locals in Somerset have been unable to see an NHS due to 2,000 of the dental specialists quitting in the last year.
And it has seen the area nicknamed the “Dental Desert”.
According to The Times, Healthwatch Somerset has said a third of the calls made between December 2021 and February 2022 were related to people being unable to get any NHS dentistry access, including children, pregnant women and people unable to pay to go private.
Gill Keniston-Goble, one of Healthwatch Somerset's managers, said: “People are telling us they have called many dentists but cannot find one taking new patients.
“We are also hearing from the public that NHS England is advising there are no dentists taking new NHS patients in Somerset."
Somerset has a population of around 560,000.
One patient, called Lydia Davis, said that she has not been able to find a dentist within a two-hour drive radius of her home.
Only 27, she has the bleeding-gum disease called gingivitis – she also needs two new fillings and wisdom teeth removal.
She said: “Sitting in the dentist's office, listening to the list of treatments, the cost of £1,100 brought me to tears," she said.
"Whenever I eat and feel a twinge, my heart drops – I panic that something terrible is happening again. I am anxious all the time.
"It isn't fair for people who earn high salaries to be using a cheap NHS dental service whilst others on low incomes go into debt trying to look after themselves."
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A spokesman for the Department of Health and Social Care said that minister were “committed to addressing the issue”, but gave no timescale or clues as to how long that would take.
But a spokesman for NHS England and NHS Improvement South West said: “Access to NHS dentists across the country has been greatly affected over the past year by infection prevention control measures, due to the Covid-19 pandemic and ongoing recruitment challenges.
“To ensure those most in need can access treatment, we have provided more than 550 additional urgent care appointments every month across Somerset.
“Looking ahead, the South West Dental Reform Programme is bringing together commissioners, professionals and the public to improve access to NHS oral health services and develop initiatives to improve recruitment and retention across the region.”
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