The upcoming closure of two dental practices in County Durham towns has left residents worrying they have nowhere to receive treatment.

Bupa Dental Care will close its Bishop Auckland Market Place and Shildon dental practices later this year, as it blames inflation and higher energy prices, increasing the cost to run patient services.

The closures are part of plans to cut 85 dental practices nationwide, amid a national shortage of dentists and challenges across the industry. Bupa says it will support patients affected by the closures and will help them find an alternative provider.

But not everyone is confident they’ll continue to receive treatment. Lesley Coates, a patient at the Market Place branch in Bishop Auckland, says she stands “absolutely no chance” of getting into neighbouring practices.

She has been an NHS patient at her local practice for 27 years but is now facing the reality of joining the huge waiting lists throughout the town. A second Bupa branch in Bishop Auckland will remain open but is already popular with residents.

Lesley was fortunate enough to rely on NHS dental care last year when she had a tooth removed but now worries whether she’ll be able to be seen at all. “Bishop Auckland and Shildon are not affluent areas,” she added. “Most people will not be able to afford private dental care. Is that it? Are my teeth now just going to rot and fall out? I have got nowhere to go.”

The Northern Echo: The Bupa dental practice in the Market Place, Bishop Auckland, will close next month The Bupa dental practice in the Market Place, Bishop Auckland, will close next month (Image: Google)

Routine check-up appointments must be booked six months in advance, Lesley said, and it’s only when urgent treatment is needed when people are likely to be seen quickly.

She said: “This is a huge issue and something that needs to be sorted - we all have a right to NHS dental care I really don’t know what I’m going to do.”

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National shortages of dentists have been worsened by the NHS contract model, and because of an increased demand and complexity of care since the Covid pandemic, Bupa warned.

A spokesman for Bupa added: “This decision will allow commissioners to procure new local providers and so provide a better opportunity for maintaining access to NHS dental services for affected patients.

“We will be fully supporting our people to explore alternative roles within Bupa.”