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Findings from a project to gather information about the provision of NHS dentistry in the west of Dorset have been published by the Bridport Local Area Partnership.  Those findings show a serious and deteriorating situation regarding NHS dentistry in the area.

The context is that any adult can receive NHS dentistry, with the cost of any treatment being subsidised.  This will be provided by a dentist who has signed a contract with the NHS.

Furthermore, some groups are entitled to free NHS dentistry, including children, women who are pregnant or with a baby and those in receipt of low-income benefits.

Specific findings from the project include that:

  • No dental practices in the area currently accept new patients under the NHS dental contract, though all receive frequent enquiries from people searching for NHS care (which offers subsidised dentistry);
  • Some of the practices in the area still treat a portion of their existing patients under the NHS contract, though the extent of this is reducing over time;
  • The picture is similar for patient groups entitled to free (NHS) dental care, such as children, women pregnant or with a baby and those on low-income benefits: local dental practices provide this to existing patients, but are not taking on new patients;
  • The NHS dental contract is unpopular with dental practices, not least its payment structure (into three simple tiers) and its associated bureaucracy;
  • There is a growing shortage of dentists and associated professionals who practice in the area, which is affecting all dental provision, though most of all NHS dentistry;
  • Three dental practices in the area have lost a dentist in the fairly recent past and all of them have so far been unable to recruit a replacement;
  • Whilst acknowledging this is a nationwide issue, local experience is that recruitment of dental professionals is especially hard in a rural area such as the west of Dorset;
  • Specific issues were also noted with dental or oral health care for special needs groups, such as care home residents, those with dementia and the homeless.

These findings have potentially serious and long-term implications for health inequalities amongst the local population.  They support the conclusion in a Healthwatch Dorset report, that many on lower incomes are struggling to afford required dental treatment or even check-ups unless they are already registered with a dentist who maintains a NHS contract.

The Bridport Local Area Partnership is sharing its findings with key stakeholders, including the Dorset Integrated Care Board, NHS Dorset, South West Local Dental Network, Dorset Council and the constituency MP, and in doing so is pressing the case for urgent action to address the deteriorating situation. The Partnership will also explore the scope for some community-based action that could help improve oral health and care in the local area.

The full report can be downloaded here, or viewed as web pages via the following links:


The findings reported above refer to that part of Dorset which lies to the west of Dorchester and Weymouth.  It includes the towns of Bridport, Beaminster and Lyme Regis.

The Bridport Local Area Partnership is a network, with around 80 member organisations or groups from across the public, private, voluntary and community sectors.  This includes Bridport Town Council and thirteen nearby Parish Councils.

The Healthwatch Dorset report, which is referred to above, was published earlier in 2023 and was called Why are people finding it difficult to access NHS dental care in Dorset?


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