Around three quarters of NHS dental practice owners are finding it difficult to fill vacancies, according to a new survey carried out by the BDA.
The trade union said the results of its national survey of practice owners underlined its fears over the future of NHS dentistry.
Responses were gathered from 358 BDA members identified as practice owners in England from a survey of 1,544 members carried out between 8 June and 10 August 2018.
The results showed that 75% of NHS practice owners were struggling to fill vacancies last year, rising to 84% among those with the highest NHS commitments.
These figures have risen markedly in recent years, up from 50% in 2016, rising to 68% in 2017.
The BDA said the figures reflected what it called 'growing disillusionment' with England's NHS dental system, with levels of NHS commitment now a key driver of low morale and low job satisfaction according to BDA surveys.
Official NHS sites were now recommending that patients undertake long journeys to get an appointment, such as new adult patients in Barrow-in-Furness being advised to travel to a practice in Whitehaven - a round trip of 90 miles.
BDA analysis had shown that some new patients across England were also facing round trips of more than 40 miles.
One dental practice in Barrow said it had permanent vacancies that had been left unfilled for five years and it was operating at quarter capacity.
Meanwhile, a leading recruitment agency had told the BDA that they had been unable to fill any posts advertised across Cumbria in the past 12 months. Even in London, agencies were saying they were unable to recruit NHS dentists with offers of (financial) golden handshakes.
Official data1 from NHS England had also shown that more than a million new adult patients tried and failed to secure access to NHS dental services last year.
BDA Vice Chair Eddie Crouch said: 'Patients are losing out because ministers wrongly assume NHS dentistry's survival is a forgone conclusion.
'The facts are if NHS practices can't fill vacancies then we can't treat NHS patients. Recruitment and retention are key, and a cash-strapped system that puts government targets ahead of patient care is now squeezing the workforce on both sides.
'Many patients will travel further or wait longer for care until this government stops punishing colleagues who commit themselves to the NHS.'
NHS England. Summary of the Dental Results from the GP Patient Survey - January to March 2018. 2018. Available at https://www.england.nhs.uk/statistics/2018/08/09/gpps_dent_x1786_239846/ (accessed March 2018).
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Three quarters of NHS dental practices failing to fill vacancies. Br Dent J 226, 480 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41415-019-0221-y
BDJ In Practice (2019)