A QUARTER of Bolton dentists have quit the NHS ­— potentially leaving thousands of patients without care.

Figures show that 25 per cent of Bolton’s practitioners left over a 12 month period, the second highest drop in England.

For Bolton, which has suffered from high levels of deprivation across many of its communities, this could be particularly devastating, with good dental care one of the first casualties of poverty,

The British Dental Association’s Shawn Charlwood said: “Families in Bolton have seen some of the worst a broken NHS system has to offer.

“Sadly, every practice struggling to fill vacancies translates into thousands of patients unable to access care.

“Years of failed contracts and underfunding have meant a growing number of dentists no longer see the NHS as a place to build a career.

“The pandemic has upped the ante, and we are now facing down an exodus.

“Ministers have failed to grasp that we can’t have NHS dentistry without NHS dentists.”

The figures, gathered by the BBC Shared Data Unit, show that Bolton’s Clinical Commissioning Group had lost 48 dentists in the year ending March 31 2021 over the previous 12 months.

There are now just 142 NHS dentists practicing across the entire borough, with many patients left to either seek expensive private care or to go without.

The situation in Bolton has been replicated across England and Wales, with a total 2,500 NHS dental posts lost across both countries, which according to Mr Charlwood and the BDA has been caused by widespread unhappiness with NHS contracts.

In particular, BDA officials say that a funding system, known as units of dental activity is one of the root causes of the problem

This system sets financial targets for numbers of operations such as fillings to be carried out but does not incentivise preventative work is a key reason for dentists leaving the health service.

Mr Charlwood said: “Rather than punishing colleagues, we need a service that recognises and rewards commitment.

“Bolton deserves better, across the country millions stand to lose out if the government fail to deliver needed reform.”

But Greater Manchester Health and Social Care Partnership, which takes responsibility for dental care in Bolton, says that dental care has remained the same across the city region as a whole, despite the number of dentists having “changed.”

Director of primary care Laura Browse said: “We recognise that the past two years have been a very challenging time for dentistry, along with other parts of the NHS.

“We are extremely grateful to dental teams for all their hard work during the pandemic.

“We have recently invested in additional health and wellbeing support for staff across primary care, including dentistry.”