A woman who extracted her own teeth because she couldn’t find an NHS dentist says crowdfunding a new set of dentures has transformed her life. On Tuesday afternoon, MPs will question dental experts from NHS England as part of an official inquiry prompted by a BBC investigation into the dentistry crisis.
One by one, over several months, Danielle Watts pulled out 13 of her own teeth.
For years she had been living with terrible pain and discomfort as a result of chronic gum disease, which meant that her teeth – otherwise healthy and unaffected by decay – were becoming loose and falling out.
But Ms Watts, from Bury St Edmunds in Suffolk, found herself in a “dental desert” – an area where no dentists offer NHS care – and couldn’t afford the thousands of pounds of private treatment needed to fix her teeth.
Now, a crowdfunding campaign has helped raise enough money to let her have a set of dentures fitted – meaning she can smile again.
“I’ve got a mouthful of teeth, which feels amazing,” Ms Watts says. “I’m not ashamed any more.”
The BBC featured her story last year – when our research revealed the extent to which people across the UK were struggling to access NHS dentistry.
The Covid pandemic had left dental practices with severe backlogs of patients needing appointments, and this exacerbated an NHS funding gap which meant dentists had to take on more private work to survive.
Our research showed:
- Nine in 10 NHS dental practices across the UK were not accepting new adult patients for treatment under the health service
- In a third of the UK’s more than 200 council areas, no dentists were taking on adult NHS patients, and
- Eight in 10 NHS practices were not taking on children
Following our investigation, the Health and Social Care Committee launched an inquiry into dentistry, and the cross-party committee has today been hearing evidence from senior NHS England and government figures.
A Government health minister has acknowledged that NHS dentistry in England needs a complete overhaul. Appearing before a committee of MPs, Neil O’Brien said the time for small tweaks to the system had passed, and a much deeper reform was needed.
“We want to grow the overall level of activity that NHS dentistry is delivering, particularly to do that by making NHS work more attractive in lots of different ways, by fundamentally overhauling the contract that has been there since 2006, which is now pretty badly showing its age,” he said.
The Department of Health in England says improving NHS access is a priority, and that it has made an extra £50m available “to help bust the Covid backlogs” – but tens of thousands of people, like Ms Watts, are still struggling to find an NHS dentist.
Last August, she described how she no longer smiled at people and had stopped going out and socialising.
“I won’t go out and meet new people. I avoid crowded situations. I walk with my head down all the time,” she told us.
Describing herself as “quite a happy, smiley person”, she said she would hang her head to hide her mouth when she laughed in front of people, “because I know what they’re seeing”.