A complete lack of NHS dental spaces in Rugby has left some residents presenting to A&E in agony, the leader of an independent health group told the Advertiser.
Chris Bain, leader of Healthwatch Warwickshire, spoke with the Advertiser to highlight the worrying results of an investigation they conducted earlier this year.
The organisation takes calls, emails and website communications from residents across Warwickshire who wish to share their concerns about healthcare - then collating all that information and presenting it to public bodies to push for positive change.
Chris said earlier this year the organisation began receiving many messages from concerned residents over the lack of spaces to take on new patients in NHS dentists in Rugby.
Deeply concerned by this, the group conducted its own investigation, which saw them call dental surgeries across the county to find out how many spaces they had for new patients.
Spaces were available in North and South Warwickshire - but in Rugby researchers were able to speak with seven out of the 11 dentists in town - and not one of them had any spaces.
One said they had a waiting list of between 12 and 18 months, with all seven saying they would refer patients to the 111 service.
"There is a feeling among some that Rugby, being to the east of the area, is often forgotten about when it comes to things like this," Chris said.
Chris explained that patients are asked to call 111, with NHS staff then trying to find an emergency appointment for them.
On occasion the nearest emergency appointment will be in Coventry - prompting concern as to how those on a very low income will be able to attend.
The use of 111 for dental appointments appears to have risen in use since the beginning of the pandemic, and the group is now conducting a survey to establish how effective it is.
"We have already heard that there are difficulties," Chris said.
This shortage means that patients are becoming increasingly desperate, with Chris saying some are attempting to manage dental pain on their own - while others end up presenting to A&E in agony.
"We also have significant concern for young people," Chris said.
"Infections are particularly dangerous in the young, and it's vitally important that they are treated immediately.
"The lack of check-ups is also concerning, I've spoken to one person who hasn't been to a dentist for two years.
"This means that when they finally do present to a dentist, they'll likely need more treatment.
"It's not just that - dentists routinely spot other serious oral health issues like cancer."
Chris believes that some of these shortages are being caused by stringent covid rules dentists are now having to follow - including ventilating areas and deep-cleaning between appointments - giving them less time to see patients.
Finding a solution will be difficult, Chris said, because unlike other health services, dentistry is organised by NHS England and not a local trust.
This makes the situation with funding and provision more complicated.
The group plans to raise the issue with authorities, and is hoping to work towards a solution.