Scoltand's NHS crisis: With people's lives at risk because they can't access basic services, SNP ministers obsess over details of life after independence – Susan Dalgety

A dentist could save your life by spotting signs of cancer or treating a potentially lethal infection (Picture: Leon Neal/Getty Images)A dentist could save your life by spotting signs of cancer or treating a potentially lethal infection (Picture: Leon Neal/Getty Images)
A dentist could save your life by spotting signs of cancer or treating a potentially lethal infection (Picture: Leon Neal/Getty Images)
Scotland’s NHS dental service is facing an ‘existential crisis’ but the SNP’s focus is elsewhere

I am feeling sorry for myself. On Friday I had a minor dental op. My talented dentist – she’s a crime writer as well as a wizard with a dental drill – removed an old crown and its root, leaving a rather large gap in my lower jaw. Since then, I have been nursing my pain with paracetamol and red wine, and praying that an infection doesn’t set in.

The offending tooth had to be removed because it had become the repository for regular infections caused by chronic sinusitis. There is a limit to the number of times the dentist can prescribe antibiotics before uttering the fatal phrase, “it’s going to have to come out”.

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But I am one of the lucky ones. I have a dentist. A very good one, with all the latest equipment and friendly staff. And I struck gold when I signed up with them a few years ago – they were still taking NHS patients, though I am saving up to buy a fancy dental plate to plug the yawning gap in my mouth once my gum has healed. NHS dentures haven’t improved much since 1947.

Scotland’s NHS dental service is facing an “existential crisis” according to the British Dentistry Association (BDA). More than half – 52 per cent – of dental capacity has been lost since March 2020 and last week, David McCall, chair of the BDA’s Scottish Dental Practice Committee, warned Holyrood’s Covid-19 Recovery Committee that urgent reform is required to save the service. “Covid hit dentistry like no other part of the NHS in Scotland,” he said. “NHS dentists are already walking away from a broken system. There can be no recovery without reform.”

It might be too late for Edinburgh. This newspaper reported earlier this month that it is almost impossible to find an NHS dentist in the Capital. Only 23 out of 86 city dentists are able to register new NHS adult patients, and only eight of those said practices can give new patients an appointment without joining a waiting list. Some dentists will only take children if their parents are already registered as private patients.

Oral health matters just as much as any other part of our anatomy. Untreated gum infections can kill if they travel to the brain. Dentists check your mouth for signs of cancer as well as tooth decay. And tooth loss can destroy confidence, so damaging mental health. As the World Health Organisation states, oral health is “integral to general health and supports individuals in participating in society and achieving their potential”. Yet here in Edinburgh we now have a two-tier dental health service that favours those who can afford to pay over everyone else.

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Tomorrow in Holyrood, MSPs will take part in a Scottish Government debate about a written constitution for an independent Scotland. They might as well be discussing the existence of unicorns. Meanwhile, people’s lives are at risk because they are refused basic NHS services and cannot afford to access private care.

The SNP government has promised to introduce a new payment structure for NHS dentists by November this year. But that may well be too late to save the service. Scotland’s dental services need urgent treatment now.

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