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NHS Dental Services

Frequently asked questions

Since April 2023 the ICB has the responsibility of planning, contracting, and monitoring of dental services in the North East and North Cumbria, this is sometimes referred to as commissioning. We took over this role from NHS England.

The challenges...

We are aware of the challenges many people in our region face in accessing dental services. This includes practices struggling to overcome the backlogs that developed during Covid-19 and difficulties with the recruitment and retention of dentists as well as the wider dental workforce.

While dental practices are open and able to provide the full range of treatments, they are having to balance the challenge of clearing any backlog with new patient requests. This can mean some dental practices do not have any capacity to take on any new patients at this time and some people experience long waiting times for routine appointments.

What the ICB is doing...

The ICB is working closely with local dental networks and providers to explore all opportunities to increase capacity and improve access to local dental services.

The ICB Board agreed a Primary Care Dental Access Recovery Plan on 25 July 2023. This included an additional £3 million to support dentistry during the 2023/24 financial year to help protect, retain, and stabilise local dental services, including urgent out of hours appointments. It aims to create an additional 27,000 appointments with a focus to support more vulnerable patients who may experience difficulties accessing services. Detailed planning continues.

A review into oral health and care across the North East and North Cumbria has also been agreed by the ICB. The report will be based on the views of our service-users and partners and will help us to evaluate the current provision of dental services in our region.

The ICB is also reviewing new national guidance published in October 2023 to also help improve patient access to local dentistry services.

Frequently asked questions

  • Patients are not registered with a dentist in the same way as GP practices – you can therefore contact any NHS practice to access care.

  • We are aware that some practices are operating waiting lists to manage those patients requesting routine NHS dental care.

  • As independent contractors, dental practices are responsible for managing their appointment books and are best placed to advise on the capacity they have available to take on new patients.
  • Practices providing NHS treatment are listed on nhs.uk. It is their responsibility to keep the information on this website updated and whilst it may currently indicate they are not taking on new patients, we would advise that patients do contact them to check the latest position on availability for routine appointments.

  • It may be helpful for you to be aware that the North East and North Cumbria ICB does not hold information on practices currently accepting new patients and is therefore not in a position to advise on appointment availability.

  • Individual dental practices will be able to provide information to you on how their waiting lists are managed and how individuals will be contacted including anticipated timeframes.

  • While we appreciate that this can be frustrating, we ask that wherever possible, individuals do not assign themselves or their family members onto waiting lists at multiple dental practices.

  • NHS England and the ICB’s expectation is that all NHS funded capacity is used to deliver the maximum possible volume of safe care for patients and we are supporting providers with this approach.

  • Many practices offer both NHS and private treatment.

  • Mixed NHS and private practices will have separate appointment books for both NHS and private treatment, with staff teams employed for these different arrangements.

  • NHS provision is delivered across their contracted opening hours, however, demand for NHS treatment is such that they could have used up their available NHS appointments and the practice may, therefore, offer the private option to patients.

  • Before any treatment is started there will be a personal dental plan to sign which will explain the NHS treatment the dentist is going to do and how much it will cost. If any private treatment has been discussed this and the cost will also be listed separately.
  • Please be aware that the NHS will provide all treatment that the NHS dentist feels is clinically necessary to keep teeth, gums, and mouth healthy. Here are the details on who is entitled to free NHS treatment and also what types of treatments are available on the NHS and the cost.

  • If you develop an urgent dental issue, you can telephone any NHS dental practice during normal working hours. Practices providing NHS treatment are listed on nhs.uk.

  • It is important that when you ring the practice, you fully explain the nature of your dental problem so that the urgency of your dental treatment can be determined.

  • If the practice is unable to offer an appointment because their NHS urgent access slots have already been taken up, they will advise you to ring another NHS dental practice or alternatively visit 111.nhs.uk or call 111.

  • The NHS111 health advisor will undertake a clinical triage and where the dental need is deemed to be clinically urgent, an appointment will be made at the nearest in-hours urgent dental care hub, or alternatively depending on the time of the call, into the dental out of hours treatment services.

  • If the issue is not deemed urgent, patients will be signposted to another NHS dental practice and/or given self-care advice until an appointment can be offered.

  • We appreciate that the loss of any dental practice will be a concern for patients and local communities.

  • Where this occurs, we are committed to exploring all opportunities to address any gaps in provision as quickly as possible.

  • It is important to note that patients are not registered with a dentist in the same way they are with a General Practitioner (Doctor) – patients can contact any NHS practices to access care.

  • Here are the details on who is entitled to free NHS treatment and also what types of treatments are available on the NHS and the cost.

  • If your teeth and gums are healthy – a check-up, or scale and polish may not be needed every 6 months.
  • Stopping smoking and limiting alcohol intake along with reducing the amount of sugary drinks and food can all be beneficial in keeping your teeth and gums healthy.

  • All NHS dental practices are being encouraged to prioritise patients for treatment based on urgency and priority groups, such as those more at risk of dental disease or children.

  • Appointments for some routine treatments, such as dental check-ups, may still be delayed.

  • If you develop an urgent dental issue telephone your regular dental practice (or any NHS dental practice if you don’t have a regular dentist) for advice on what to do next or visit 111.nhs.uk.

  • If the dentist decides the issue is not urgent, you may be given advice on how to self-manage the dental problem until an appointment becomes available. You will be advised to make contact again if your situation changes/worsens.

  • Toothache should initially be managed with over-the-counter pain relief until an appointment can be made with a general dental practice. A pharmacist can advise you what is the best pain control to meet your needs.
  • Lost fillings, crowns or bridges, broken teeth or braces are not usually deemed to be clinically urgent and patients are advised to contact their local dental practice when they re-open.

  • Only ring NHS 111 out of hours when your dental needs cannot be met by self-care and cannot wait until your regular practice – if you have one - is open to contact them for advice.

Update on urgent dental access centre in Darlington


The ICB is investing in dentistry and in the last year we have seen a steady but slow improvement in the number of people accessing dental treatment - following an additional investment of £3m in 2023/24. 

There is, however, a long way to go to recover to pre-pandemic levels.

The ICB is making further funding available in 2024-25 to extend the short-term measures and additional capacity that was commissioned in 2023-24 to include the incentivised access scheme to provide additional appointments targeting patients in greatest clinical need and urgency, out of hours urgent dental treatment capacity, and additional dental clinical assessment workforce/triage capacity within the NHS 111 service.

In Darlington, this includes investment in a temporary urgent dental access centre, which will provide increased urgent dental care capacity locally while a procurement process takes place to secure a new general and routine dental service in the Eastbourne ward of the town from January 2025, subject to a successful procurement outcome.

Access to the temporary urgent dental access centre (UDAC) for those with urgent dental care presentations will be via controlled referral routes which will include but not be limited to NHS 111. The temporary centre is expected to be in place from June 2024 at the earliest, subject to the provider being able to put all the required arrangements in place including the required registration with the Care Quality Commission (CQC).

Longer term plans include a full procurement plan, which has now started, that will provide between 198,322 and 244,596 extra urgent dental access appointments through 11 contracts in total covering North Cumbria, Durham, Darlington, Sunderland and Northumberland.

Is this a new dental practice for Darlington?

No, this is not a new traditional dental practice.  Recognising the challenges people face accessing NHS dentists, it is a temporary, urgent dental access centre that is being put in place while the NHS completes a full procurement exercise to establish new, permanent general dental provision in the Eastbourne ward of Darlington from January 2025.  The aim is to have the temporary centre open in June 2024.

I used to be a patient at Firthmoor, how can I get an appointment?

The urgent dental access centre that is scheduled to be available in June in Firthmoor is for urgent appointments accessed via controlled referral routes including but not limited to NHS 111. The urgent centre will not be open for general, day to day routine appointments or walk in appointments.

Patients with an urgent need who aren't already receiving treatment at a dental practice should call NHS 111 for urgent support and they will be signposted to the service that is most appropriate to their needs, which might be the urgent access centre in Darlington when it opens in June.

Can I make an appointment direct to see the dentist?

Patients can't make an appointment directly with the urgent access centre.  NHS 111 will be able to make appointments at the centre, where there is a clinical need.

Does the dentist at Firthmoor have access to my old dental records?

This is a new service delivering urgent dental care and as such they will not have access to previous dental records.

It's two years since I was last seen by a dentist, can I have a check up? How long before I have to wait to get a check up?

If you need to see a dentist for a routine check up, you can contact local dentists directly.  For urgent dental appointments, you can telephone any general dental practice.  If they are unable to offer an appointment because their NHS urgent access slots have already been taken up, you should visit www.111.nhs.uk  or call  111.

How will patients access the urgent dental access centre?

Patients who aren't already accessing ongoing treatment from their dentist and/or can't secure urgent care access via a local dental practice should call NHS 111 for urgent dental support and they will be signposted to the most appropriate service for their needs which could include the Darlington Urgent dental access centre.

Why is the temporary centre being opened?

The urgent dental access centre in Darlington will help provide extra urgent care capacity and access to appointments while the NHS carries out a procurement exercise for a permanent, general dental service for the area.

When will it open?

The urgent dental access centre is scheduled to be operational in June, subject to registration with the Care Quality Commission (CQC).  The CQC currently has a significant backlog of registrations to process, and we are hopeful that the process will be concluded as quickly as possible.

You've known about issues with NHS dentistry for some time now, why is it taking so long to put things in place?

Since the pandemic, dental services have faced massive challenges in meeting the increasing and more complex needs of our patients.

The ICB took on responsibility from NHS England for the commissioning on dental services in April 2023.

In July 2023, the ICB committed £3 million as part of its Primary Care Dental Access Recovery Plan. This has included investment in dental practices to provide extra clinical treatment sessions and recruiting staff to support dental triage through the NHS 111 phone service.  

The ICB has continued to work hard to address issues with dentistry throughout the 2023/24 financial year and beyond. Our Phase One plan to increase capacity includes incentives for practices that can demonstrate how they will improve access for patients and address health inequalities. Further investment of £3.6m has been made available for 2024-25 to continue with these measures.

An additional investment of £1.3m will see the introduction of temporary urgent dental access centres in Darlington and North Cumbria.

What is happening with the 11 other contracts?

The ICB has started a procurement process to put in place 11 new contracts that will provide between 198,322 and 244,000 Units of dental activity (UDAs) across County Durham, Darlington, North Cumbria, Northumberland and Sunderland from January 2025, subject to a successful procurement outcome.

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