One million pregnant women and new mothers denied free NHS dental care

Jennifer is six months pregnant with her second child and needs emergency dental treatment. She has been waiting for a date for almost two years. The 38-year-old has a unique way of charting the wait: She began seeking treatment in 2020, when her first baby was still a bump. That baby is now 19 months old.

Despite her best efforts to secure an appointment, Jennifer has been unable to access the SNS dental care to which he is entitled. She is one of hundreds of thousands of women trapped in this position.

Nearly a million pregnant women and new mothers in England were denied free NHS dental treatment in the two years to March 2022, leaving women and their babies vulnerable to serious health problems.

All pregnant women in the UK are entitled to free dental care from the NHS while they are expecting and for 12 months after the birth of their baby.

Hormonal changes during pregnancy can make your gums more vulnerable to plaque, which leads to swelling and bleeding, while changes in eating habits and morning sickness can also damage your teeth. Periodontitis (gum disease) in pregnant women is associated with an increased risk of preterm birth and low birth weight, research indicates.

But more than 900,000 pregnant women and new mothers were unable to access NHS dental treatment for two years, saving the government an estimated £46 million, figures shared with Yo to show.

In the five years before the pandemic, an average of just over 840,000 pregnant women and new mothers completed free NHS dental treatment courses in England annually. This figure plummeted to 245,967 in 2020/21 when the country went into lockdown, according to data provided by the British Dental Association (BDA).

The number of maternity claims rose to 490,298 in 2021/22, leaving an estimated 944,039 missed maternity appointments since the lockdown. The actual number of women being refused dates is likely to be much higher, as the BDA figures only take into account NHS data from England.

Jennifer, who lives in Surrey with her fiancé and young son, tried to see a dentist for the first time while pregnant in late 2020 when the couple lived in London, but found there was no “zero availability”.

It was only after her baby was born in 2021 that she decided she couldn’t wait any longer: she was in agony and paid hundreds of pounds to go private, even though she was still eligible for free. nhs treatment.

“I needed a root canal that was extremely expensive,” said Jennifer.

However, the prohibitively high cost of private treatment meant that he could only afford to have the first part of the procedure done, and the root canal filling fell out later.

“When I went private, I couldn’t afford to crown it. It was a temporary treatment because he was in agony, “explained Jennifer.

More than a year later, she is “living with a piece in her mouth” and still unable to get an NHS appointment in London or Surrey: “Some clinics have said they don’t accept any NHS patients, some have said they had I’m on a waiting list but can’t take anyone else. I’ve told them I’m pregnant.”

Speaking to other pregnant women, Jennifer learned that her friends were experiencing the same problem: “Everyone tried and they all failed,” she added.

The BDA has calculated that by not being able to offer free appointments for new and pregnant mothers, the government has saved around £46m, a sum that needs to be reinvested in maternal and child dental care, the body argued.

“Pregnant women and new mums are offered free dental care because the risks are clear and the benefits are clear,” said Professor Justin Durham, chief scientific adviser to the BDA.

“Missing out free regular dental care can have a substantial impact on both mother and child, with the most vulnerable in society likely to be hit the hardest. We need to see real urgency in reforming NHS dentistry so that there is better access for all.

“Any money saved should be reinvested in tried and tested programs to improve both maternal and child oral health,” he added.

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Jennifer, who can no longer afford private care, has given up trying to find a dentist to treat her as an NHS patient and is “trying not to think about” the possible consequences.

“There’s a reason why [the NHS] gives this opportunity to pregnant women. For it to be ignored or forgotten is really neglectful for me,” she said.

“It feels like [dentists] they are trusting people to give up and hoard the money to go private.”

The Department of Health and Social Care said Thérèse Coffey, the newly appointed Health Secretary installed by Liz Truss, “has made it clear that improving access to dental care is one of her top priorities.”

“During the pandemic, we provided targeted care for those who needed it most, including expectant mothers and new mothers, and earlier this year we invested £50m to help tackle Covid delays and offer additional appointments.

“We provide more than £3bn in funding for dentistry each year and have recently introduced reforms to help practices see more patients,” the department added.

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