More money and "incentives" for dental surgeries are among new measures meant to ease backlogs and soaring demand for care.

But there is "no golden ticket" which will solve the problems overnight, councillors were told at a Darlington Borough Council meeting.

Senior primary care manager Pauline Fletcher from NHS England gave a presentation on backlogs, demand, expectations, challenges and changes in dental care.

She told the council's health and housing scrutiny committee: "We have got significant demand on all of our NHS dental practices.

"Their capacity is constrained by workforce recruitment and retention, and the sheer volume of the demand that's coming through.

"We're still encouraging our practices to prioritise patients based on clinical need and urgency."

She said national reforms included prioritising patients with high needs, more money for complex cases, more funding flexibility, changing intervals between appointments and website improvements.

It is hoped this will help clear the backlog, free up space for patients and recruit and keep dentists.

Read more: Darlington dental horror stories given to NHS as some wait 'months'

She said they were "exploring new avenues" to bring in new dentists, including possible changes to contracts and enhanced rates, "selling" local areas and overcoming "barriers and challenges" to streamline overseas recruitment.

She added: "We are working as quickly as we can. It is a significant challenge. I don't think there's one golden ticket that's going to improve things overnight.

Read more: Councillors want action over lack of Darlington NHS dentists

"Unfortunately patients failing to attend, often without giving notice, continues to be a challenge for dental practices.

"Absolutely a plea to patients - please make sure if you are unable to attend, you cancel your appointment as quickly as possible so that can be offered to other patients."

She accepted it was "very confusing" as dental practices did not work like GP surgeries.

There was uncertainty in the meeting over the number of NHS dentists working locally and patients who had been "taken off lists".

Local dental network chair Tom Robson said: "There isn't a list."

Read more: NHS dentistry on its ‘last legs’ despite data showing surge in treatments

Mr Robson said dentistry underwent a "two-year virtual standdown" during Covid, with experienced dentists leaving their jobs, delays to students' training, pressure to recruit and keep staff particularly in deprived areas, and appointments taking longer.

Councillor Eddie Heslop highlighted numerous accounts from residents, including one who took an accidental paracetamol overdose "due to self-medication for tooth pain".

The Northern Echo: Cllr Eddie Heslop. Picture: Sarah Caldecott.Cllr Eddie Heslop. Picture: Sarah Caldecott.

He asked how many people in Darlington's 13 NHS dental providers were NHS dentists.

Ms Fletcher said: "We don't have the visibility on how many full-time equivalent dentists are operating within the practices and how many are working on the NHS contract."

She said they were sending surveys to practices to understand the gap between their capacities and needs.

Asked what changes were expected in three or six months' time, Ms Fletcher said it was difficult to say.

Read more: Troubled Darlington bus services will get boost with new drivers

Cllr Chris McEwan raised oral health and cost of living impacts, saying: "Clearly there are big, big issues. I think this is a tough gig and I cannot at the moment see a solution."

Cllr Mary Layton said she heard of a mother told in a phone assessment "there'd be a two-year waiting list and if she paid £2,000-and-something she could have the treatment straight away".

She said: "She felt like she was being sold a service and she was really shocked.

"So many people have said they found it difficult to find appointments for children, which I find horrific."

Cllr Wendy Newell said there should be simple messages for patients, adding: "People have had to take their own teeth out."

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