The plight of people in the North East’s ‘dental deserts’ was discussed in Parliament last week.

Politicians including Darlington’s MP Peter Gibson, Durham’s Mary Kelly Foy and Stockton North’s Alex Cunningham said they had received dozens of reports of constituents unable to access routine dental care.

Echo analysis of the NHS’ Find a Dentist service suggests several towns across the North East and North Yorkshire have no access to routine dental care for patients without a referral.

Read more: The North East's 'dental deserts' revealed

Last week, Labour’s Ms Kelly Foy told Parliament that NHS dentistry is on the brink of collapse.

She said dentists are being driven away from the NHS en masse, adding: “My constituents are struggling to access the dental services they need and deserve.

“Tooth decay is currently the most common reason for hospital admissions among young children.

“Thousands of children are currently in pain, distracted as they learn, in pain as they eat and struggling to sleep because they cannot access vital treatment.”

The Northern Echo: Mary Kelly Foy, the MP for the city of Durham

Durham MP Mary Kelly Foy

She added: “These issues will hit the poorest in our society the hardest – for many, the fees for private treatment are simply unaffordable.”

Conservative MP Peter Gibson said access to care had been “undoubtedly compounded by the pandemic” but that the main issues were shortcomings with the current system of dental contracts.

Dentists agree to provide a set number of units of NHS dental activity a year, but are paid similarly for each unit, regardless of how much work is needed.

MAPPED: Here's where you CAN get a dentist

Mr Gibson said: “Dental providers effectively end up being paid less money for more work, with it not being financially viable to provide NHS dental services.

“That results in providers not taking on NHS patients or sometimes handing back NHS contracts and concentrating on private dental care.”

The Northern Echo: Darlington’s MP Peter Gibson in the House of Commons.

Darlington MP Peter Gibson

Calling for any reform of the system to focus on prevention and pre-emptive care, he said that could reduce demand for urgent and routine dentistry.

He said he welcomed the steps taken by the Government to reduce a backlog in dental care, adding: “This is a hugely important issue in Darlington and one we cannot afford to get wrong.

“It is essential that those in the most need of care and those in the most deprived areas are prioritised.

“The current system is simply not working in that regard.”

Read more: Life in Darlington's 'dental desert'

Middlesbrough is another town with no access to NHS dentistry without a referral.

Speaking to The Northern Echo, its MP, Andy McDonald, said a number of constituents had contacted him about access to dental care.

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Middlesbrough MP Andy McDonald

He added:“Understandably, COVID has had an impact on services and emergency cases and groups such as children have been prioritised over the past two and half years. 

“As we move forward it is unacceptable that people are expected to travel miles away from their home to access a routine dental appointment.

“Lack of dental care can have a real negative impact on a person’s health and it is vital everything is done to ensure access for all patients.”