There is a shortage of more than 30 NHS dentists in Gloucestershire according to official figures.
NHS chiefs say the lack of dental practitioners in the county undermines the ability of high street practices to meet their contracts.
As of last month, there was a projected budget underspend for NHS dental services in Gloucestershire of around £5 million.
And health chiefs estimate the county is short of around 31 whole-time equivalent dentists.
They say there are several reasons for the unwillingness of dentists to come to the South West and Gloucestershire.
There are limited training opportunities and the younger generation often tend to favour the larger cities, plus increasing concern across the region with dental practices becoming financially unviable due to the large increase in running costs and no proportionate increase in contract value.
These factors make it extremely difficult for practices to attract dentists to the area and are also a large contributing factor for dentists opting to go private as opposed to continuing with NHS dental contracts.
Health overview and scrutiny committee chairman Andrew Gravells (C, Abbey) said it was clear to him that NHS dentistry in Gloucestershire needed to improve.
He said the committee found there was a shortage of dentists prepared to do NHS work in Gloucestershire.
And he hopes that will begin to change in 2023 when all NHS Dentistry will be commissioned by the county’s NHS, the integrated care board, from April.
“Bringing that key part of the service under the control of people who are based here, and who will be able to react more quickly to the needs of our area is good news.
“It’ll also mean that the Gloucestershire health scrutiny committee will be able to play a greater role in how NHS Dentistry is commissioned,” he said.
“It was surprising to hear that the dentistry budget was underspent by around £5 million in the county, and I hope that some of that will be used to help recruit more dentists to take on NHS work.
“This whole issue is certainly going to be on the committee’s radar for some time to come.”
Steve Sylvester, NHS England director of specialised commissioning in the South West, confirmed during the meeting on December 8 that their budget underspend for Gloucestershire was around £5 million.
He said they wished they could spend it all but by the end of the financial year but feel it is unlikely. He explained it had been difficult over the past two to three years because of the challenges during the pandemic.
“That figure is changing quite rapidly around Gloucestershire and we are working closely with our colleagues in the ICB to manage that position and make sure we are clear with any changes that are actually happening.
“We’ve got further work to do in terms of engaging with the community. The underspend will be reduced but it’s difficult for me to put a figure on that at the moment.”