The NHS is wasting as much as £18m ($22.13m) a year because of the UK government's policies on dental care, a report has revealed.
Researchers from Newcastle University and the British Dental Association (BDA) found that policies aimed at cutting the cost of the NHS dentistry bill were costing more as a result of treatments being sought at hospital accident and emergency (A&E) departments instead.
According to the study by Newcastle University's Centre for Oral Health Research, around 135,000 dental patients visit A&E departments every year. This compared to 3,505 visits per year in 2010-11, as revealed by data collected by the Health and Social Care Information Centre, published in 2014.
More than half of the visits were as a result of toothache, the new study said, with the BDA blaming government's policies to "slash budgets" for dentists" and increasing charges for patients causing the surge in numbers which also added to the strain on the NHS.
Henrik Overgaard-Nielsen, speaking on behalf of the BDA, said: "Ministers keep underestimating how much their indifference to dentistry has knock-on effects across the health service.
"GPs and A&E medics are having to pick up the pieces, while the government's only strategy is to ask our patients to pay more in to plug the funding gap."
Adding that until the situation changed, the cost to the NHS was likely to remain high, he said: "We are seeing patients who need our care pushed towards medical colleagues who aren't equipped to treat them."
At the time of the publication of research in 2014, Unison's head-of health, Christine McAnea said the cost of dentistry meant less well-off people avoided regular check-ups, putting off treatment until pain caused them to attend A&E.
However, in response to the BDA's study, an NHS England spokeswoman argued that the number of people visiting A&E because of teeth generally did so because of dental emergencies.
She said: "Figures show access to NHS dentists is, in fact, improving, although a small number of people with a dental emergency, such as bleeding, may need to attend A&E."
She also urged those in need of general advice, such as on pain relief, to ask a local pharmacist or visit their NHS dentist.