Free emergency dental clinics are coming soon to two Suffolk towns where there is "desperate" need for treatment.

Charity Dentaid will be in Leiston for the first time on Wednesday, February 2, and will return to Bury St Edmunds on Thursday, February 3, to help people with severe dental pain and no other access to treatment.

Leiston has been without any NHS dental provision since losing both of its practices within 18 months and in Bury St Edmunds it has been described as "impossible" to get a national health dentist.

Last week we reported on an "exodus" of dentists from the NHS - with West Suffolk Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) being the joint-third worst affected area in England.

The Toothless in England campaign group, which started in Leiston, has helped bring about the clinics, which are being funded by local councillors. Leiston's town council is also helping to pay for the clinic there.

Mark Jones, spokesperson for Toothless in England, said there was "desperate need" for NHS dentistry in these towns.

"There is extreme need," he said. "We are desperate. We need the commissioners and government and the chief dental officer to recognise there is a health emergency with dentistry across the country."

New NHS dental services could be in place in Suffolk by the summer - if providers are found.

And in the meantime, there are set to be more NHS dental appointments available in the county from February 1 as part of a 'blitz' to help those in urgent need of treatment - though these may only be offered by larger practices.

Jill Harding, communications director for Dentaid, said the charity was trying to "bridge the gap" for people in toothache who cannot access NHS dentistry now.

She added: "We will help as many people as we can. We cannot promise we can treat everyone."

Dentaid’s CEO Andy Evans said they were looking forward to returning to Suffolk "to help those in greatest need who have no other way of getting dental treatment".

The Dentaid clinics in Bury St Edmunds in November were some of the busiest the charity has ever held, with 73 people seen over two days.

Among the people treated was a cancer patient who had not been able to access NHS dentistry.

Bury St Edmunds Town councillor Darren Turner, who is helping to fund the local clinic through his locality budget, said: "It's an issue that affects everybody.

"Everybody knows somebody who doesn't have access to an NHS dentist."

Mr Turner, who is also a Toothless in England campaigner, added: "In Bury, it's impossible to get an NHS dentist. People are travelling miles."

A range of factors are said to be behind the NHS dental crisis, including how the NHS dental contracts work, recruitment problems and underfunding, plus further pressures and backlogs caused by the pandemic.

Last week, a government spokesperson said: "Work is underway on dental contract reform. We are working with partners, including the British Dental Association, to look at alternative ways of commissioning services and making the NHS a more attractive place to work for dentists.

“We are also providing full income protection for practices unable to deliver their usual level of activity.”

Talks of a dental school in Suffolk are also in their early stages.

  • The clinics will take place at the Waterloo Centre in Waterloo Avenue in Leiston on February 2 and the Thomas Clarkson Centre in Hospital Road in Bury St Edmunds on February 3 from 10am - 4pm. People don’t need appointments and are invited to turn up and wait to be seen. The clinics are for people who are not registered with a dentist.