‘Churchill once said that the British are great queuers, but I don't think he meant that in connection to dental care’, Shropshire representative Mark Pritchard grimly tells Parliament. He is referring to Britain’s dentist shortage in 2006, where droves of people would queue up to receive treatment for the shorthanded National Health Service. ‘You could argue that Britain has not seen lines like this since World War II’, Pritchard said. Some may say that the comparison is a tad too much, but one has to admit: much like war, there was quite a lot of blood.
‘I've seen people with bleeding gums where they've ripped their teeth out’, William Kelly says to The New York Times. Mr. Kelly had just missed the cut-off for the NHS dental treatment line. He complained of one mottled tooth aching, a resulting issue from what is now just a black stump on the other side of his jaw. ‘I snapped it out myself’, he says, proudly. As for his new dental problem, he says that he is ‘in the middle of pulling that one out, too’.
Mr. Kelly is only one of the thousands of individuals who took dental care into their own hands during Britain’s 2006 dentist shortage. At the beginning of that year, public dentists only had a mere 49 percent of the adults and 63 percent of children in England and Wales registered. Staffing issues within the NHS compounded with a discouraged professional workforce, and citizens suffered as a result.
‘I had a lady who was in so much pain and had to wait so long that she got herself drunk and had her friend take out her tooth with a pair of pliers’, recounts Claire Dacey, a nurse for a private practice.
Dental implant providers from North London recall the ‘assembly line’ nature of public dental work as the main deterrent to practitioners looking to work for the NHS. They note how the constraints of a ‘paid per unit of dental activity’ system drove many professionals into private practice. The British Dental Association reported at least 2,000 shifts in April 2006 alone.
It seems like Britain’s 2006 dentist shortage was a necessary display of an inadequate public health system’s flaws, and a somewhat impressive amalgam of the citizens’ desperation and ingenuity.