Thousands of 'desperate' patients turn to A&E with toothache and other dental problems

Thousands of people are turning up at Scotland’s overstretched A&E departments each year with toothache and other dental complaints.

Thousands of people are turning up at Scotland’s overstretched A&E departments each year with toothache and other dental complaints.

More than 3,600 people sought help at A&Es for dental matters in Scotland in 2019/20, according to figures obtained by JPIMedia Investigations.

Common complaints included toothache, cavities and gum disease.

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The British Dental Association said in almost all cases, patients were unlikely to get anything more than pain relief and would be referred to a dentist, meaning this route offered people little help while lumbering the NHS with extra costs.

More than 77,000 people turned up at the A&E departments and minor injury services across the UK as a whole in 2019/20 with dental problems, costing the NHS an estimated £13m.

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Dave Cottam, Chair of the British Dental Association’s General Dental Practice Committee, said the issue is worse in the rest of the UK than in Scotland, where numbers attending A&E for dental checkups have declined from previous levels.

But he warned that “overstretched” A&E and general practice staff in Scotland are not trained or equipped to deal with dental problems.

He said: “Free dental check-ups in Scotland may have taken the edge off problems being felt across the UK. Still far too many desperate patients are finding reasons to delay or avoid needed treatment, or to simply head elsewhere.“Our overstretched colleagues in A&E and general practice are neither trained nor equipped to deal with dental problems. Sadly whenever our patients face barriers the impact is felt across our NHS.”

A Scottish Government spokesperson said the number of people registered with a dentist was at record levels in Scotland and there was no charge for dental check-ups.

They added: “As the figures show, unlike the rest of the UK, the number of dental patients seeking treatment at A&Es in Scotland has declined.

“Scotland has a national network of out of hours dental centres which can be accessed through NHS24 and whilst someone may attend A&E with a dental problem they are likely to be redirected to the local out of hours dental centre which is more appropriate.”

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