Patient whose life was saved by routine dentist check gives dire warning about state of NHS

By Staff 7 Min Read


Pensioner Tony Page was referred to hospital when a routine check-up revealed an abnormality – now he warns the collapse of NHS dentistry might be costing lives

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A mouth cancer patient whose life was saved by a dental check-up warns the collapse in NHS dentist access is costing lives.

Tony Page, 73, was referred to hospital in 2014 after his dentist spotted an abnormality in his mouth.

A hospital diagnosis soon followed. Within six weeks cancerous parts of his tongue and jaw had been removed. But now NHS dentist availability near Tony’s home has vanished. Tony, of Folkestone, Kent, said: “You can’t get an NHS dentist within 50 miles. Some people could die through the lack of availability.

“It also costs the NHS more money… as later detection is likely to lead to more extensive surgery, worse outcomes and longer hospital stays.”

In the UK, around 3,000 people die of mouth cancer each year and 9,000 people are diagnosed with it. Early detection results in a 90% survival rate, falling to 50% after a later diagnosis.

Eddie Crouch, chairman of the British Dental Association, warned: “Oral cancers already claim more lives than car accidents. Numbers will skyrocket if ministers remain asleep at the wheel.”

Save NHS Dentistry petition

Sign our petition to save NHS dentistry and make it fit for the 21st century

Our 3 demands

Everyone should have access to an NHS dentist

More than 12 million people were unable to access NHS dental care last year – more than 1 in 4 adults in England. At the same time 90% of dental practices are no longer accepting new NHS adult patients. Data from the House of Commons Library showed 40% of children didn’t have their recommended annual check-up last year.

Restore funding for dental services and recruit more NHS dentists

The UK spends the smallest proportion of its heath budget on dental care of any European nation. Government spending on dental services in England was cut by a quarter in real terms between 2010 and 2020. The number of NHS dentists is down by more than 500 to 24,151 since the pandemic.

Change the contracts

A Parliamentary report by the Health Select Committee has branded the current NHS dentists’ contracts as “not fit for purpose” and described the state of the service as “unacceptable in the 21st century”. The system effectively sets quotas on the maximum number of NHS patients a dentist can see as it caps the number of procedures they can perform each year. Dentists also get paid the same for delivering three or 20 fillings, often leaving them out of pocket. The system should be changed so it enables dentists to treat on the basis of patient need.

Have you had to resort to drastic measures because you couldn’t access an NHS dentist? Are you a parent struggling to get an appointment for a child? Email [email protected] or call 0800 282591

The Mirror is campaigning for a return of the right to an NHS dentist for all – as most are no longer accepting new patients. Our online petition on the 38 Degrees platform, in partnership with the British Dental Association, has now reached 220,000 signatures.

The Department of Health said: “The NHS has seen and treated record numbers of cancer patients over the past two years, with survival rates improving across almost all types of cancer, including mouth cancer.”

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