The British Dental Association has expressed concern about the future of NHS dentistry in Wales.
Due to stress and worries about patient care following changes in Wales, dentists have stated that they were on the verge of giving back NHS contracts.
112,000 appointments for new patients are expected as a result of Welsh government reforms.
It claimed that when a dentist returned their contract, it was "always disappointing," and it was spending £2 million a year to make dentists more accessible in Wales.
Earlier this month, a Senedd committee expressed concern that too many people in Wales didn't have access to the NHS.
Wales' Chief Dental Officer Andrew Dickenson announced the changes to check-ups from every six months to every 12 months in July 2022, saying they would enable practices to accept up to 112,000 new NHS patients each year.
According to the British Dental Association (BDA), the system has caused dentists to worry about the future of NHS practices, and many are considering terminating their employment contracts because of the threat of fines.
More than a third of the 250 high street dentists surveyed by the BDA recently in Wales said they would cut their NHS contract this year, while 13% said they would end their contract entirely by March 2023.
The targets were impossible to meet, according to Russell Gidney, chairman of the BDA's Welsh General Committee, because many patients were already only seen once a year and because new patients could take much longer to treat than existing patients, who mostly needed checkups.
He stated that the service's breaking point was "about six weeks ago" and issued a warning that it was "going to disappear" due to a backlog of patients owed to Covid.
In a year, two years, or three months, "there's a very real possibility that NHS dentistry as we know it won't exist," he said.
When the new fiscal year started, Mr. Gidney predicted that many practices would leave the NHS, and he accused the Welsh government of refusing to cooperate.
As they deal with the effects of this year in six weeks, we fully anticipate a snowball effect of practices ceasing.
"Soul-sucking is probably the word I would use if you're trying to make that input and make that change and just not getting listened to," he continued.
Dentist Lowri Leeke, who oversees the Hapus Dental practice in Merthyr Tydfil, claimed that the staff was under extreme strain as a result of contract changes and backlogs brought on by the Covid-19 pandemic.
She claimed it was "stressful" to try to explain to patients accustomed to bimonthly checkups that they would not be seen for a year, and she feared that due to less frequent routine appointments, health issues such as gum disease and tooth decay were going unnoticed for months.
"We are personally witnessing a significant increase in potential oral cancer patients in my practice," she said.
"We're always just trying to catch up.
Morale is at an all-time low, and we're all exhausted and stressed out. " .
Dentists who had already turned in their NHS contracts, according to Ms. Leeke, were among the many who were considering doing the same.
She claimed, "As a practice owner, I constantly lose money on NHS patients.
"Due to the stress and time commitment that administrative work puts me under, I now treat more patients than I do paperwork and check boxes. ".
Five members of Helen Briscoe's family are currently waiting for an NHS dentist after she moved from Telford, Shropshire, to Llanidloes, Powys, in February 2022. Helen is 51 years old.
She has inherited gum disease, so in order to keep her teeth, she must visit a dental hygienist every three months.
She claims her gums have since "deteriorated" despite the fact that she hasn't seen a dentist in a year.
I'm very self-conscious, so I avoid smiling, showing my teeth at work, and laughing because I know they've gotten worse over the past year, she said.
Helen previously used the NHS to pay for her care, which she claimed made it more affordable, but she was "worried" about how she would handle the cost of private care.
I'll be saving to have my teeth cleaned every three months, she said, adding, "You manage to save up money, save for a holiday.".
While it is "always disappointing" when a dentist reduces or terminates their NHS contract, the Welsh government noted that "less than 20 out of over 400 contracts have been handed back this year [and] the majority have been re-procured or are in the process of being so].
According to the BDA, "we continue to work with dental practices to explore how the reform of the national dental contract can encourage dental practices to collaborate and best meet the dental and oral health needs of their communities.".
"Health boards will be able to fund dental services based on local needs and issues thanks to the £2 million yearly funding to improve access to NHS dentistry throughout Wales.