The British Dental Association has issued a warning that NHS dentistry in Wales may be eliminated.
Dentists have stated that stress and worries about patient care following changes in Wales have brought them dangerously close to terminating their NHS contracts.
112,000 new patient appointments are anticipated as a result of Welsh government reforms.
It stated that it was "always disappointing" when a dentist's contract was returned and said it was spending £2 million a year to increase access to dentists in Wales.
A Senedd committee expressed concern earlier this month that too many people in Wales didn't have access to the NHS for dental care.
Wales' Chief Dental Officer Andrew Dickenson made the announcement in July 2022, stating that the shift from six-month to 12-month checkups would enable practices to accept up to 112,000 additional NHS patients each year.
The British Dental Association (BDA) claimed that the system had caused dentists to worry about the future of NHS practices, with many of them considering terminating their employment contracts in response to fine threats.
In a recent survey by the BDA of 250 high-street dentists in Wales, more than one-third said they would cut their NHS contract this year, while 13% said they would give their contract back 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 treating new patients could take much longer than treating existing patients, who primarily needed checkups.
He claimed that the service had reached its breaking point "about six weeks ago," and that it was "going to disappear" due to a backlog of patients from Covid.
The possibility of NHS dentistry ceasing to exist as we know it in a year, two years, or three months is very real, he warned.
Mr. Gidney predicted that many practices would leave the NHS when the new fiscal year started, and he accused the Welsh government of being unwilling to cooperate.
In six weeks, when they are still dealing with the effects of this year, we fully anticipate a snowball effect of practices ceasing.
He continued, "Soul-sucking is probably the word I would use if you're trying to make that input and make that change and just getting ignored.
Dentist Lowri Leeke, who oversees the Hapus Dental practice in Merthyr Tydfil, claimed that the staff was under intense pressure as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic's backlogs and contract changes.
She claimed it was "stressful" to try to explain to people accustomed to bimonthly checkups that they would not be seen for a year, and she feared that health issues, such as gum disease and tooth decay, were going unnoticed for months due to less frequent routine appointments.
She stated, "We are personally observing a significant increase in potential oral cancer patients in my practice.
"We are always merely playing catch-up.
"Morale is at an all-time low; we are all extremely exhausted and stressed. " .
Dentists who had already returned their NHS contracts, according to Ms. Leeke, were among the numerous others, including herself, who were thinking about doing the same.
I'm a practice owner, and I constantly lose money on NHS patients, she claimed.
"I'm spending more time checking boxes and completing paperwork than I am treating patients because of the time and stress that administrative work is causing me. ".
Five members of Helen Briscoe's family are currently on the waiting list for an NHS dentist. Helen Briscoe, 51, relocated from Telford, Shropshire, to Llanidloes, Powys, in February 2022.
She must visit a dental hygienist every three months in order to maintain her teeth because she has hereditary gum disease.
She claims her gums have "deteriorated" since her last dental visit, which was a year ago.
She said, "I don't smile, I don't show my teeth at work, and I don't laugh because I know they've gotten worse over the year.".
Helen used to receive her care through the NHS, which she claimed made it affordable, but she was "worried" about how she would pay for private care.
She said, "You manage to save money, save for a vacation, and I'll be saving to have my teeth cleaned every three months.".
Although it is "always disappointing," according to the Welsh government, when a dentist reduces or terminates their NHS contract, "less than 20 out of over 400 contracts have been handed back this year [and] most have been re-procured or are in the process of being so," it said.
"We continue to work with the BDA to explore how the reform of the national dental contract can encourage dental practices to collaborate and best address the dental and oral health needs of their communities," it said.
"The £2 million yearly funding to improve access to NHS dentistry in Wales will enable health boards to fund dental services based on regional needs and problems.