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100,000 patients heading to A&E with dental problems each year, study claims

More than 100,000 people with dental problems are turning to A&E every year, costing the NHS millions of pounds, according to new research.

A study from Newcastle University and calculations by the British Dental Association (BDA) found that the true number of people going to A&E for dental problems is around 10 times official government figures, with more than half of the cases related to toothache.

Official figures suggest around 14,500 patients with dental problems attended England's A&E departments in 2014/15. But the BDA says "systematic under-reporting" means this figure is much more likely to be closer to 135,000 patients at a yearly cost of nearly £18 million.

Henrik Overgaard-Nielsen, chairman of general dental practice at the BDA, said: "Ministers keep underestimating how much their indifference to dentistry has knock-on effects across the health service. GPs and A&E medics are having to pick up the pieces, while the government's only strategy is to ask our patients to pay more in to plug the funding gap.

"We are seeing patients who need our care pushed towards medical colleagues who aren't equipped to treat them. As long as government keeps slashing budgets and ramping up charges, we will keep seeing more of the same."

Dr Justin Durham, a senior lecturer in oral surgery and orofacial pain at Newcastle University and honorary consultant at Newcastle upon Tyne Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, who was senior author on the study, said: "If you experience toothache without significant other symptoms, then heading to a hospital's A&E department isn't always the best option.

"Ensuring that patients are treated in the right place, at the right time, by the right team is essential for both the patient and the wider public, not just to ensure appropriate diagnosis and treatment but also reduce unnecessary care, and personal costs."

An NHS England spokeswoman said: "Figures show access to NHS dentists is in fact improving, although a small number of people with a dental emergency, such as bleeding, may need to attend A&E.

"Patients who need advice on pain relief can also get help from their local pharmacist as most causes of dental pain don't need antibiotics.

"Anyone in need of an NHS dentist should contact their own dental surgery or NHS 111, who can signpost them to the most appropriate service for treatment."

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