A new plan to fix the dental crisis and ensure patients receive better access to treatment has received a mixed response from politicians, who have called for urgent action in County Durham and Darlington. 

Dentists are to be offered cash to take on new patients and given £20,000 “golden hellos” to work in communities with a lack of NHS dental services under plans to boost dentistry across England.

Around a million people who have not seen a dentist for two or more years are expected to benefit as officials offer a “new patient payment” of £15 to £50. One-off payments of £20,000 are to be awarded to 240 dentists for working in under-served communities for at least three years, according to the plans.

People throughout County Durham and Darlington have gone years without a dental appointment due to a significant backlog of appointments, huge waiting lists, and not enough practices. Stories of people fitting their own fillings and extracting their own teeth without anaesthetic or professional training have become commonplace. 

Darlington and Stockton Times: Dentists are to be offered cash to take on new patients Dentists are to be offered cash to take on new patients (Image: The Northern Echo)

Some communities have even been labelled ‘dental deserts’ due to the lack of available NHS treatment. 

And despite the latest support, politicians and dentists said the recovery package will not be enough to help people struggling to access dental care. They have warned that long queues would be seen around the country if more practices were taking on NHS patients.

For Darlington MP Peter Gibson, opening a new practice to replace the closed facility at Firthmoor Community Centre remains a priority. The Burgess & Hyder practice closed last year and is yet to be replaced, as NHS officials say it needs more time to find a provider. “We’ve waited 10 months since it closed and we need to see some action,” he added. 

The Conservative also backed Teesside University’s ambition to create more dental training places. 

Other initiatives announced as part of the NHS dental recovery plan include:

– Dentists will be paid more for their NHS work.

– So-called “dental vans” to be rolled out in rural and coastal areas.

– People will be able to use the NHS app to see which practices in their local area are accepting new patients.

– A “Smile for Life” programme to give advice to new and prospective parents.

– The Government will also launch a consultation on a potential water fluoridation programme to help prevent tooth decay.

But City of Durham MP, Mary Kelly Foy, is not convinced by the proposals. 

She said: “For the Government to brand this as a recovery plan once again shows us just how disconnected from the true state of NHS dentistry they actually are.

“The Tories have presided over 14 years of savage cuts, and the latest dentistry rescue package will barely make a dent due to almost £1billion being lost from dental budgets in real terms since 2010.

The Labour MP continued: “Rishi Sunak promised to ‘restore’ NHS dentistry. That promise has not been kept. He has continued to watch the rot take root in NHS dentistry services and allowed them to decay even further despite stark warnings from professionals and campaigners.”

The North East and North Cumbria Integrated Care Board (ICB) took over responsibility for dentistry in 2023, and said it has invested an additional £3.8 million to create up to 27,000 extra appointments this year and improve access for patients with urgent dental care needs.

Dr Neil O'Brien, medical director, said: "We welcome the new plan and look forward to seeing more detail so we can review what it means for our region as we work to stabilise and strengthen dental services.”