According to a new survey from consumer organisation Which?, NHS patients in England who seek dental treatment face a postcode lottery in terms of the availability of services.
The Which? secret shopper survey found that more than half of surgeries are not taking on new NHS patients, with only one in three taking on all those asking for NHS treatment. The telephone survey looked at 466 dental surgeries across the country.
In the North West only 13 per cent of surgeries contacted by Which? callers, posing as potential patients moving to the area, said that they were accepting new NHS patients.
In Yorkshire and Humberside and the South Central region, the figures were almost as low - 15 per cent and 16 per cent respectively.
In some areas of the country, much higher percentages of NHS patients are being accepted, with 63 per cent of surgeries in the West Midlands accepting all patients and 59 per cent in London.
Practices in the South Central region and the South West were most likely to be only taking on certain NHS patients.
Overall, 11 per cent of dental practices would only take on certain NHS patients, usually children and those on benefits or exempt from charges.
Frances Blunden, Which? health campaigner, says: "As long as the Department of Health continues to allocate money for primary care trusts to spend on dentistry on the basis of previous levels of NHS provision in their area, they will perpetuate the stark inequalities in access. If the Government is serious about creating a patient-centred approach to NHS dentistry, then primary care trust allocations must be related to local needs."
The survey follows a claim by the Conservative Party that the number of people using NHS dentists has dropped by 1.4 million over the last 12months.
Less than half of all UK adults are registered with an NHS dentist. Finding a dentist is difficult, and private fees can be a strain on finances.