THOUSANDS of people are no longer up to date with their dental check-ups in Dorset.

The coronavirus pandemic has left children waiting for more than the recommended 12 months and adults more than two years.

And experts have warned the situation could get worse before it gets better.

The British Dental Association said patient access across England has "fallen off a cliff" since March, warning tens of millions of patients could lose out on dental care.

Figures from NHS Digital show 301,760 adults were seen by a dentist in NHS Dorset CCG in the two years to the end of June – the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence's recommended longest interval between check-ups.

This was three per cent fewer than had been seen in the two years to the end of March, around the time the vast majority of dentists were forced to close because of the coronavirus lockdown.

Routine dentistry was largely suspended in England between March 25 and June 8, with 600 NHS urgent dental care centres remaining open in their place.

Between the end of March and the end of June, the number of adults seen by dentists across England in the last two years fell by four per cent, from 21.8 million to 21.0 million.

But the British Dental Association warns the latest statistics do not fully show the "unprecedented fall in access" driven by the Covid-19 pandemic.

It said Freedom of Information requests indicated access to the urgent dental care network was just over two per cent of the normal level of activity, and recent surveys suggest the overwhelming majority of practices are still operating at less than a quarter of their former capacity.

The recommended longest interval for children is just 12 months, and the NHS figures show fewer under-18s are also being seen by Dorset dentists than normal.

By the end of June, 75,032 children had been seen in the past year – down from 82,930 seen by the end of March.

The BDA said practices face significant barriers to expand capacity, warning tens of millions of patients in England will effectively lose access to dental services unless current regulations evolve.

Dave Cottam, chair of the BDA's general dental practice committee, said: "This is data is from another era. Since March patient access has fallen off a cliff, and there is no certainty when or if it can be restored.

"Access was in a bad place pre-pandemic. We should lament how few children and adults made it to an NHS dentist last year, but the real question now is how we can even bring the service back to these levels.

"We have practices struggling, and tens of millions of patients need somewhere to go. We need government to work with us to rebuild capacity."

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesman said: “Children’s oral health in England is among the best in the world, and in the last year more than seven million children have been seen by a dentist, with more than three quarters having no decayed, missing or filled teeth by the age of five.

“Twenty-one million adults were seen by a dentist in the last two years up to June and we are working closely with NHS England to improve access across the country.”