What do dental students think about the NHS?

Zaira Cantara discusses how the NHS access crisis is affecting her education, and what the general sentiment is about NHS dentistry amongst dental students.

Zaira Cantara discusses how the NHS access crisis is affecting her education and what the general sentiment about NHS dentistry is amongst dental students.

My name is Zaira Cantara, and I am currently a fourth year dental surgery student at the University of Liverpool.

Shawn Charlwood, chair of the BDA Committee recently quoted ‘nine out of 10 dental practices are not taking on new adult patients’ for NHS care. As a student, does this affect my education? Very much so…

Patients are presenting to student clinics more anxiously and medically compromised with further extent and complex diseases because of the crisis. Approximately 90% of patients that come through for urgent treatment at the dental hospital are doing so because they are being turned away from NHS dental practices.

While this has given me more clinical exposure to such challenging diseases, these patients are in dire need of help, with some quoting ‘I’ll do anything for this pain to end’.

NHS dentistry is ‘completely unrecognisable’

The year is 2023, 75 years on from when the NHS was established and promised ‘everyone – rich or poor, man, woman or child – can use it or any part of it’. We are worlds apart.

You’ve heard it all before – practices are not being able to recruit and retain NHS dentists, an increase in patient demand and inflation with overwhelming contracts not being met. To summarise it simply, NHS dentistry is unable to allow dentists to offer what is best for the patient, which is time, prevention, care and access.

‘It’s completely unrecognisable, but I still love what I do,’ was the response I got from a GDP when asked how dentistry had changed for her since she graduated in 2008.

Personally, I decided to pursue this career several years ago. And although I see and hear the impact of the ongoing access issues and stress levels frequently, this has not robbed me of my ambition. If anything, I am more dedicated.

Patient satisfaction, relieving someone out of pain, seeing the face of someone who trusts you and is working with you so they can lead a better quality of life – there are no words for it.

The current service is often likened to the sinking of the Titanic. If that’s the case. I’m prepared to head towards the crisis on a lifeboat because there are many out there hoping for its return.

Private dentistry = survival?

There is a generalised loss of faith in NHS dentistry. This has put dentists further under the spotlight of a ‘villain’ type role. The restoration of faith will take years to restore and at a high cost, affecting many.

We are at a time where we have more leavers than joiners. In addition, some could say the government have made it impossible to work in NHS dentistry.

This has lead to another dental crisis: recruitment of professionals. If we are losing professionals daily, how are we going to bring them back in or attract the newly qualified? As a future dentist, working in a practice with low team morale or support is a concern of mine.

It is clear to students that there is a place for NHS and private dentistry. They both have unique strengths and opportunities which affect our pathways.

The consensus of many students is that NHS dentistry is impacting stress levels of dentists with increased burnout levels, thus affecting patient care. Because of work pressures, we see recent graduates heading into private work earlier as a way of survival and growth. It’s no longer for a lucrative opportunity.

NHS dentistry is made of many talents under its umbrella. As students, we are fortunate to access this and we feel protective of the service to keep it going. The current state of the NHS affects us all, with many forgetting that dentists, after all, are patients too.

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