Hundreds of people in the region have been forced to attend hospital for tooth decay as more and more people struggle to access a dentist.

New figures have shown that in the past year, more than 1,000 people in Norfolk and Waveney have been forced to attend A&E for dental matters.

More than 600 people attended the emergency department of the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital for issues relating to their teeth - 450 with dental abscess and 160 with dental caries - in 2022/23.

During the same period, almost 400 people attended A&E at the James Paget University Hospital in Gorleston for the same reasons

The hospital department saw 275 patients with dental abscess - which is caused by tooth decay - and 110 with dental caries.

And at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in King's Lynn, the number was even higher, with 640 admissions related to tooth decay - 425 abscesses and 215 caries.

It means in total that 2022/23 saw 1,635 people in the region forced to seek hospital treatment for their teeth, rather than being seen by their local dentist.

The figure has sparked fresh concern about the struggles people are having getting in with a dentist in the county - which has previously been named one of the UK's worst dental deserts. 

Lowestoft Journal: Clive Lewis

Clive Lewis, Labour MP for Norwich South, said: "I've always said the dental crisis is part of a much broader health crisis from years of tearing holes in our social support systems.

"When you cut social support, it is ultimately our NHS that bleeds.

"If you let dentistry services crumble - people will end up in agony at A&E."

Lowestoft Journal: Keir Cozens, Labour's candidate for Great YarmouthKeir Cozens, Labour's candidate for Great Yarmouth (Image: Keir Cozens)

In a joint statement, Keir Cozens and Jess Asato, Labour's parliamentary candidates for Great Yarmouth and Lowestoft respectively, said: "Millions of people are being denied an appointment with an NHS dentist when they needed it.

"In Great Yarmouth and Lowestoft, patients are being forced into A&E with tooth decay because they have nowhere else to turn."

It comes after recent figures also showed that tooth decay rates in under-fives in the region are among the worst in the country.

The county's dental crisis has recently been given additional funding from NHS Norfolk and Waveney, with bosses offering dentists up to £20,000 for the next six months to visit schools and raise awareness of good oral hygiene.

But there continues to be a shortage of dentists offering non-emergency NHS treatments - who are instead prioritising private practice. 

Earlier this week, Taverham Dental Heath Clinic became the latest in the region to announce it will be ceasing all NHS treatment at the end of the year. 

A letter sent to patients claimed "rising costs" had sparked the decision, adding that "chronic lack of investment in NHS dentistry by successive governments" had left the surgery unable to do NHS work.

Lowestoft Journal: Green party city councillor Alex Catt

Alex Catt, deputy leader of the Green group at Norwich City Council, said: "Too many Norwich people can't get an NHS dentist and are forced to live in pain or have conditions deteriorate if they can not afford the large private dentist bills in a cost of living crisis."

It is estimated that nationwide, 4.75 million people have been denied an appointment with NHS dentists in the past few years.

In England, more than 67,310 people attended hospital emergency departments for tooth-related problems.

The situation has also sparked calls for a dental college to be established in the region.

Earlier this year, the University of East Anglia announced plans for the formation of a Norwich Dental Development Centre.

The university said in July that the centre would help support more dentists to train in the region - with the ultimate aim of forming an undergraduate school of dentistry.