Thousands of toothache patients driven to overdose on painkillers over dentist delays

Some were in so much agony while waiting for an appointment that they had popped 24 times the recommended daily dosage.

Researchers warn the delays are putting people at risk of fatal liver failure and placing a strain on NHS finances – with each night in hospital costing £400.

Paracetamol poisoning is the single most common cause of acute liver failure in the UK. And dental pain is the leading cause of unintentional overdose.

Doctors at Queens Medical Centre, in Nottingham, treated 436 patients for accidental paracetamol overdose in two years.

Records show 164 cases were a direct result of dental pain and 55 per cent of these had been unable to secure a “timely” appointment with their dentist.

Study leader Laura O’Sullivan, from QMC, said: “These results highlight a lack of public awareness surrounding safe self-medication and inadequate access to timely emergency dental care.

“The cost burden is arguably a preventable one.

“Had these patients received prompt emergency dental care, their pain could have been treated without resort to excessive consumption of analgesia.

“Dentists have a duty of care to treat patients in need of emergency care in a timely manner.”

The British Dental Association has estimated that 135,000 dental patients attend A&E each year at a cost of nearly £18million.

A further 600,000 people seek treatment from their GP.

But dentists say neither of these providers is equipped to treat dental pain, which often requires surgery, rather than painkillers.

The BDA said health bosses should pay dentists to provide more urgent care slots.

Henrik Overgaard-Nielsen, the BDA’s chair of General Dental Practice, said: “Paracetamol is not a solution for dental pain, and is simply a temporary measure until a dentist can provide treatment.

“Sadly lives are now at risk as failure to provide sufficient care for dental emergencies is leaving patients to self-medicate.”

Previous studies show some people choose to wait up to six months before seeking dental care.

The findings are published in the British Dental Journal.

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