MORE than a quarter of people in Blackburn and Darwen have never tried to book themselves an appointment with an NHS dentist.

The British Dental Association (BDA) said people are being pushed towards private practices by lack of finances in the NHS and restrictions on the services they can offer.

Of the 2,389 people in the Blackburn with Darwen CCG who responded to this year’s GP Patient Survey – conducted between January and March – 26% said that they had never tried to book an appointment with an NHS dentist.

It means fewer people are looking to the NHS for their tooth care. Five years ago, 25% had never tried to book an appointment with an NHS dentist.

When those who had not tried to book an appointment in the last two years were asked why, the most common reason given was that they had not needed to see a dentist.

But across England, the most common reason given was that they preferred to see a private dentist.

Earlier this year, it was revealed East Lancashire boroughs rank among the highest in the country for five-year-old children who have decaying teeth.

But Blackburn with Darwen has seen a significant drop in the number of children with rotting teeth in the past decade.

The borough still ranks as the seventh worse for five-year-olds with tooth decay in the country

Pendle, Burnley and Hyndburn also all make it among the top ten worst in England for child tooth decay rates.

The figures were revealed in Public Health England’s latest Child Oral Health Survey.

Data for 2017 showed Pendle has the highest percentage of children with decayed, missing or filled teeth in the country at 49.4 per cent.

While Burnley's figure is 46.5 per cent, Hyndburn's is 45.8 per cent and Blackburn with Darwen has a child tooth decay rate of 42.6 per cent.

It means that East Lancashire’s boroughs have rates of about double the national average of 23.3 per cent.

Since 2007, Pendle, Burnley and Hyndburn have also seen child tooth decay rates get worse, although Blackburn with Darwen has improved from 56 per cent in 2007.

The chairman of the BDA, Mick Armstrong, said that there are several reasons why a quarter of people may have chosen not to access NHS dentistry.

He said: "Socio-economic factors will play a part. The more affluent may choose to see a dentist privately because it may be quicker to see a dentist and because of the perception of ‘bespoke’ care, because of the wider choice of dental materials available, and access to services which are not available on the NHS.

"In other instances, they may choose this route because of restrictions placed on NHS services, for example orthodontics, or treatments rarely available such as implantology."

This year’s survey also showed that 15% per cent of patients in the Blackburn with Darwen CCG had not tried to book to see their NHS dentist in the last two years. While timeframes for how often patients should see their dentist vary depending on personal circumstances, the NHS recommends that everyone see a dentist at least every two years.

The BDA said that the NHS budget is only sufficient to cover care for half of the English population, which is fuelling growing access problems. These factors could influence patients who do attempt to access care.

Despite this, 92 per cent of patients in the Blackburn with Darwen CCG who did try to book an appointment were successful.

Approval rates for NHS dentists in the area are strong. This year’s survey showed that 83 per cent of patients rated their dentist as either very good or fairly good.