Cumberland Council’s leader said he has deep concern after the announcement that a West Cumbrian practice will stop providing NHS treatments.

Labour councillor Mark Fryer said this further reduces the ‘already scarce’ NHS dentistry availability in the area.

There is a growing fear that without adequate intervention, residents may forgo necessary dental care due to cost, leading to further health implications in the future.

Cllr Fryer added: "This latest development is alarming and represents a significant step back toward a period reminiscent of Victorian health inequalities.

“At a time when our community is grappling with the cost-of-living crisis, the expectation for individuals to shoulder the financial burden of private dental care is untenable.

“It undermines the very principle of accessible healthcare for all.”

He said that dental health is a ‘fundamental aspect of overall health’, not a luxury.

“It is distressing to witness the erosion of accessible dental care, especially in a developed society.

“The government and health authorities have to urgently address this issue.

“It is imperative we explore all possible solutions to reinstate and ensure the provision of NHS dental services in Cumberland and beyond,” he said.

He has underlined that the council ‘must work collectively to find innovative and sustainable solutions’ so everyone in the Cumberland Council area can access NHS dental care.

Brian Wernham, Lib Dem councillor for Stanwix Urban and parliamentary candidate for Carlise, said the Conservative government has brought ‘chaos’ to the nation.

Two years ago, he started a survey in Carlisle asking people about access to dental care and said on visiting residents on their doorstep he’s seen how badly it’s affecting people.

“I spoke to a man, about 25, and he said he had a terrible toothache which went on and on.

“He didn’t go to the dentist because he didn’t have an NHS dentist.

“He ended up going to A&E and underwent surgery to have his throat opened to drain an abscess that developed, so this is wasting a lot of money and time, and it’s dangerous.”

For many Cumbrians, the nearest NHS dentist is in Hexham, over an hour’s drive from Carlisle.

“The problem with this is the dental scales are not being increased,” Cllr Wernham said, adding that NHS dentists get paid the same for three fillings as they do for one per patient.

“Who is going to work on those contracts?”

This is why, he said, dentists are becoming private more often.

Government plans to curb the issue including increasing NHS dentist rates of pay, but that’s been criticised for not being in line with inflation.

Last month, just three per cent of dentists said they believe that the government’s dental recovery plan will result in them seeing more NHS patients, according to a poll.

A survey of 1,104 dentists in England found that 43 per cent actually believe the proposals will lead to them seeing fewer NHS patients, while 54 per cent said the number of NHS patients, they see will remain the same.

The Government unveiled its £200million plan to bolster NHS dentistry in England in February this year.

Under the plans, NHS dentists will be given a 'new patient' payment of between £15-£50, depending on treatment need, to treat around a million new patients who have not seen an NHS dentist in two years or more, which the government said could see up to 2.5million additional NHS dental appointments delivered for patients over the next 12 months, including up to 1.5million extra treatments being delivered.

It will also see the rollout of the ‘smile for life’ programme, which will offer advice to parents about baby gums and milk teeth in the hopes children will see toothbrushing as normal by the age of five.

“To attract new NHS dentists and improve access to care in areas with the highest demand, around 240 dentists will be offered one-off payments of up to £20,000 for working in under-served areas for up to three years.

“The public will also be able to see which practices in their local area are accepting new patients on the NHS website and the NHS App.

“To promote the increased availability of appointments, the government will also roll out a marketing campaign encouraging anyone who has not been seen by a dentist for the past two years to access treatment,” the NHS said.

However, leading dentists said the recovery package will not be enough to help people struggling to access dental care.

A new poll by the British Dental Association (BDA) found that three-quarters of dentists do not believe that the plan will improve NHS access for new patients.

More than nine in 10 said that the proposals are not sufficiently ambitious to meet the scale of the challenge facing NHS dentistry.

Furthermore, a plan to take on trainee dentists from other countries has been criticised, namely by Cllr Wernham, who added: “We’re nicking some clever people rather than training them here, why haven’t we trained our own people?”

All Lib Dem candidates in the county, including the incumbent Tim Farron, have united in saying current units of activity need a ‘complete overhaul immediately’, Cllr Wernham said.

“And we need a dental education plan in schools, which will save money because hospitals won’t be overrun with more severe dental issues,” he concluded, adding that regular checkups can curb major issues before they become worse.

Julie Minns, Labour’s parliamentary candidate for Carlisle at the next general election, said the decline in NHS dentistry is a warning of what could come with another five years of Tory government for the wider NHS.

“I speak to hundreds of people in and around Carlisle every week, and not a week passes without someone saying they can’t get an appointment with an NHS dentist.

“Whether it's the mam-to-be unable to access the free care she's entitled to, the grandmother whose eight-year-old granddaughter has never seen a dentist, or the gentleman in his 90s whose dentist struck NHS patients from their list, the root cause is the same - it's the Conservative government.”

Ms Minns added that ‘only Labour has a plan to save NHS dentistry’, which would involve providing an extra 700,000 urgent dental appointments, a reform of the NHS dental contract system, and offering incentives for new dentists to work in areas that need them the most.

“We need change, we need an end to sticking plaster policy and Tory infighting.

“We need a general election."

John Stevenson, Tory MP for Carlisle, did not respond to a request for comment.