When Kirsty-Jane Cook moved back to Darlington in October her repeated efforts to register her daughter with a dentist failed.

Despite contacting every dentist in the town, she was told they were full and wouldn’t be accepting new patients. Private dental care has proved too costly for Kirsty-Jane but also thousands of others, and has caused many to go without treatment.

The dental crisis has been exacerbated by the Covid pandemic causing lengthy delays, burgeoning waiting lists and recruitment struggles.

“I'm lucky that neither of us need any treatment yet but my daughter needs her teeth checking since she got teeth in October,” said Kirsty-Jane. “I've been told by all that they are sorry they are not taking on, even for a child and I should try elsewhere.”

Healthcare officials have admitted the backlog is expected to last two more years, but the recent closure of the Burgess + Hyder practice in Firthmoor has left even more residents without much-needed treatment.

The Northern Echo: There are now just 12 NHS dental providers in Darlington after the closure of Burgess Hyder There are now just 12 NHS dental providers in Darlington after the closure of Burgess Hyder (Image: Sarah Caldecott)

One resident who is now looking for a new practice is Glen Ishy, who has been without a filling for three years. “I had just had a filling put in before lockdown but two weeks later it fell out and I couldn’t get in anywhere to get it sorted,” she said. “I’m still waiting for it to be done, I’ve just suffered.”

Private healthcare is also now too costly for Glen and her recurring filling issues mean she tries to avoid foods like crisps to avoid pain. She added: “I used to have a private account but it just went up and up and proved too expensive. I also have a gum problem and I’m almost about to lose my bottom teeth.”

Others have resorted to performing ‘DIY dentistry’ because there were no experts available. Darlington councillors recently heard how one individual turned up to A&E with a swollen face and neck after pulling their own tooth out.

Such stories have been labelled “disturbing”, but healthcare officials assured residents that they are “absolutely committed” to fixing the crisis.

Local dental network chair, Tom Robson, said: “The workforce that exists across the profession isn’t what it was before the pandemic. We lost an entire year’s worth of capacity in the 24-month period.”

The closure of Burgess + Hyder means there are now just 12 NHS dental providers in Darlington, and although officials hope to provide a positive update soon, they warn that capacity may be reduced.  

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Glen Ishy recalls a time when booking an appointment was easier. “You used to be able to go anywhere,” she said. “The year or two before Covid was when it became a bit more difficult. I think Covid tipped it over the edge.”

Darlington’s MP Peter Gibson says he’s working to provide better access to dentistry in the town.   

He said: “NHS England is now seeking to put extra commissioning in place in Darlington, funded at a rate which will make it much more financially viable for Dentists locally to provide a service, which will in turn, once commissioned, see greater capacity.”