They say a picture is worth a thousand words and so it was this week: scenes of hundreds of people queuing to register with a new NHS dentist in Bristol was beamed onto our TV screens.

It prompted an outpouring of fresh frustration with people left asking 'how did it get so bad?'

At the root of the problem is a broken NHS dental contract that has pushed thousands of dentists to walk away from the NHS.

In a nutshell, dentists are paid the same amount for doing one filling as for doing 10 and they are penalised for treating people with complex problems because they don’t get paid for the time involved.

In 2019, the Conservative government promised to reform this broken contract but has failed to do so.

Instead this week, the government hastily revealed their 'Dental Recovery Plan', a document described by the British Dental Association as "not worthy of the title".

Even the most generous dental experts said that it might "offer a glimpse of hope for the future – but only if introduced as part of wider policy changes" and that it "does not represent the more fundamental contract reform which is required".

The images were so powerful, they overshadowed the fact that just two days before the Prime Minister admitted that he had failed to reduce NHS waiting lists - one of his key election pledges. When asked if he’d failed, he simply said: "Yes, we have."

It should not be too much to ask that people in St Albans or anywhere else are able to see their dentist when then need to - and it’s up to opposition parties to show it can be done.

The Liberal Democrats would get to the root of the problem: we would reform the NHS dental contract to bring 1000s of private dentists back to deliver NHS work.
We would introduce supervised toothbrushing for young children, and launch an emergency scheme to ensure children, pregnant women and those on low incomes can access their free NHS dental check-ups.

Critically we would provide everyone with guaranteed access to an NHS dentist for urgent and emergency care - putting an end to Dickensian DIY dentistry.

For now however, it seems that dental deserts and the odd three-day queue to register with a new dentist are here to stay.