Parts of Norfolk and Suffolk are becoming "dental deserts", with people unable to get access to NHS dentists, one of the region's MPs has told Parliament.

Peter Aldous, Conservative MP for Waveney, challenged the government to tackle the issue during the debate over the Health and Care Bill on Tuesday, November 23.

Eastern Daily Press: Waveney MP Peter AldousWaveney MP Peter Aldous (Image: Archant)

Mr Aldous said: "Access to NHS dentistry is a problem which has been brewing for a long time, exacerbated by Covid and there are now parts of the country, particularly rural and coastal areas, where there are dental deserts.

"It's invariably children from poorer households and vulnerable adults who suffer the most.

"The crisis is acute in Suffolk and Norfolk, but it is not confined to East Anglia."

Mr Aldous said the bill was a framework to address the problem, but called on the government to ensure increased funding is provided and the new NHS dental contract is rolled out next April.

Mr Aldous said recruitment and retention of dentist professionals should be stepped up and dentistry given a greater voice on integrated care boards.

He said: "At the current time, people are pulling out their own teeth. Children are having whole mouth replacements and early signs of cancer are going undetected.

"We need to act now to put in place an NHS dentistry system that is fit for the 21st century, instead of reversing into the 19th century."

He called on health secretary Sajid Javid's department to come up with a "clear plan for addressing this crisis", which he said was affecting people around the country.

And Norwich South Labour MP Clive Lewis said: "We need a properly resourced dentistry service that works for everyone.

"The reason we haven't got one has been years in the making.

"Dentistry is scandalously underfunded and is the only element of the English health service that has to scrape by on a budget lower than it had when the Conservatives came to power.

"The government has brought in uncaring and counterproductive contracts, which explicitly deter dentists from helping people with complex problems.

"This amendment doesn't - and can't - fix all of that. But I backed it, because it'd be at least a first step in the right direction for hundreds of local people who can't get the dental care they need."

This newspaper last month investigated how many dentists were taking on new NHS patients.

We called 75 dentists’ surgeries, in locations including Norwich, King’s Lynn, Lowestoft, Great Yarmouth, Beccles, Dereham, Fakenham, and Hunstanton.

None were taking new NHS patients. Almost all said their waiting lists were closed.

Fewer than six said they were taking on new patients but only on a referral basis from other dentists. Ten said they were accepting private patients.

NHS England had said it was procuring new dental services for Norfolk and Suffolk, for new services for adults and children for routine as well as urgent appointments.