FORTY six per cent of Bradford's under fives suffer from tooth decay compared with 28 per cent across the country.

It is an alarming statistic, made even more so, by the fact that people are struggling to find an NHS dentist on their doorstep.

Healthwatch Bradford and District, an independent watchdog for health and social care in the district, is carrying out a public survey about dentistry to draw attention to the shortage of NHS dentists in the city.

"Healthwatch are hearing all the time from people in the district who are frustrated because they are having difficulty getting an NHS dentist," says Healthwatch manager, Andrew Jones.

"We've made access to NHS dentistry one of our priorities and we're conducting a survey to gather evidence from the public in order to campaign for changes."

He welcomed Judith Cummins MP raising the issue during Prime Minister's Questions. "Healthwatch

have met with local MPs to discuss the problems people have getting a dentist, which go hand-in-hand with well-publicised poor oral health in many parts of the district."

Saira, from Barkerend, Bradford, whose name has been changed to protect her identity, and her children haven't seen a dentist for three years.

She has tried NHS Choices, ringing round practices and even called 111 for advice. Despite her name being on waiting lists at several local practices she hasn't been offered an appointment.

"I've had my children's name down in so many dentists and they never call back, and when I ring around no one is taking patients on. My three children haven't seen a dentist in three years, it's appalling."

When Healthwatch used the NHS Choices website to see if any dentists could offer an appointment, the closest dentist accepting patients was in Bingley.

Joanna, from Wibsey, and her family have finally found an NHS dentist after waiting four and a half years. Their first appointment is in July. "During the years when I didn't have an NHS dentist, I had severe tooth ache and had to go to A&E with it on one occasion.

"After that, although I couldn't really afford it, I decided to pay for a private dentist while we were on the NHS waiting list. I was entitled to free dental care while I was pregnant, but my private dentist wouldn't accept this and I had to continue paying."

Jane, whose name has been changed to protect her identity, has been struggling to find a dentist since she and her partner moved to the area three years ago.

When her partner needed emergency treatment on an abscess the couple were forced to pay privately and after finally being accepted on to a waiting list for an NHS dentist, discovered 18 months later they were behind 1,400 other patients.

Jane highlighted the issue with their local MP. She believes the situation will put additional pressure on A&E departments and wants to see the commissioning of more dental units for the area.

To tackle the issue, Healthwatch is currently running an online survey and visiting places such as children's centres, bus stations and shopping centres, to find out whether people have a dentist or have had difficulty finding one.

They will present the evidence to NHS England and others to improve the delivery of dental services across the district and ensure everyone who needs NHS dentistry can access it in the city.

Victoria Simmons, Communications manager for Healthwatch Bradford and District, says: "People seem really keen to talk to us about this issue, it's something most people can relate to; even those who do have an NHS dentist often tell us that they know friends or family who have had difficulties.

"The Healthwatch team try our best to help people find local dentists. Often we experience the frustration of having to tell someone that the nearest dentist taking new patients is a few miles away or that there are long waiting lists; but sometimes we do have success."

She says while carrying out a survey in a children's centre, Healthwatch were able to secure appointments for a family who had been struggling to find a dentist.

Victoria explains the survey is a 'vital tool' in helping them campaign for improvements. "It aims to unpick some of the issues around access to dentists, not just to illustrate the problem. Some of the issues might be around information, or it could be that the services aren't matched correctly with the areas which have highest need.

"People in Bradford can help us to do this by completing our survey online, calling us on 01535 612 545 or talking to the Healthwatch team if they spot us out and about across the city," adds Victoria.

To participate in the survey visit