Portsmouth labourer in agony rips out two teeth as he can't find NHS dentist who can help

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A LABOURER in agony with tooth pain yanked two of his teeth out with pliers in his bedroom after struggling to find an NHS dentist.

Dad-of-three Chris Savage, 42, steeled himself for dental surgery by drinking eight pints of Stella Artois at home in Milton, Portsmouth.

Chris was suffering in ‘constant pain’ with two loose upper front teeth before he took the drastic action having not been able to register with a Portsmouth dentist.

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Even tentatively touching one tooth with the rusty pliers set off waves of agonising pain - but he steeled himself for the ‘proper yank’ to get the job done.

Pictured: Chris Savage with the pliers and the teeth that he pulled out in his home in Milton, Portsmouth. Picture: Habibur RahmanPictured: Chris Savage with the pliers and the teeth that he pulled out in his home in Milton, Portsmouth. Picture: Habibur Rahman
Pictured: Chris Savage with the pliers and the teeth that he pulled out in his home in Milton, Portsmouth. Picture: Habibur Rahman

His case has now been raised with the NHS by a health watchdog who said Chris has been ‘severely let down’ by services already depleted in the city.

‘It was a proper yank, a grip and pull’

Chris, who lost his front teeth last year in a push bike crash, told The News: ‘I ended up having to get very drunk the first time because I knew I didn’t want to do it – obviously.

‘Nobody wants to take part of their own face away with a set of pliers with no real painkillers.

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Chris Savage in his home with the teeth that he pulled out. Picture: Habibur RahmanChris Savage in his home with the teeth that he pulled out. Picture: Habibur Rahman
Chris Savage in his home with the teeth that he pulled out. Picture: Habibur Rahman

‘I put the pliers on my tooth and the second I did that it hurt, so I took them away, waited five minutes, built up again and then thought I’ve just got to do it.

‘It was a proper yank, a grip and pull - it’s come out. There’s no mucking about once you get to the point it’s coming out.’

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He added: ‘The squelch noise as you pull it out is like nothing I’ve ever experienced and I thought “I’ve made a big mistake here” then 10 minutes later there was a massive relief but I couldn’t do that second one.’

The teeth that Chris Savage pulled out. Picture: Habibur RahmanThe teeth that Chris Savage pulled out. Picture: Habibur Rahman
The teeth that Chris Savage pulled out. Picture: Habibur Rahman

Divorced dad Chris, who took around eight Nurofen and lives in a house share, said there was ‘not a lot’ of blood but ‘enough to be scary’ after pulling the tooth out on Thursday around 10pm.

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He waited around 24 hours before pulling the next one - this time sober.

‘I did the second one sober… it was horrible’

He said: ‘I did it sober but with the nervousness I really didn’t want to do it - this is the most horrible thing I’ve ever done in my life - to remove my own teeth from my skull.’

Pictured: Chris Savage at his home in Milton. Picture: Habibur RahmanPictured: Chris Savage at his home in Milton. Picture: Habibur Rahman
Pictured: Chris Savage at his home in Milton. Picture: Habibur Rahman

Chris did not sign up with an NHS dentist when he moved to the city three years ago.

But when tooth pain struck he called around 20 dental practices in Portsmouth last week and none were taking on new NHS patients.

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Chris called the NHS number 111 and the service arranged a triage phone appointment with Anchorage Dental in Southsea on October 8 who said he would need to book privately.

The practice was volunteering to do triage appointments to help the NHS in the pandemic, and advised him to visit the urgent dental care hub in Southsea. Chris said he contacted the hub but was referred back to 111.

‘It became a massive circle of pass the parcel,’ he said.

Retired dentist Phil GowersRetired dentist Phil Gowers
Retired dentist Phil Gowers

No cash to go private on Universal Credit

The sole trader labourer had lost his income in lockdown and was signed up to Universal Credit, leaving him £50 a week to spend on food and bills - meaning he did not have the cash.

Instead he decided to remove his own teeth on Thursday and Friday nights as he did not want to borrow the £100 per tooth needed and get into debt.

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He said: ‘I could’ve waited a week - borrowed money, and had it done in hygienic conditions but there was no way I could’ve waited.’

Chris did not sterilise the equipment but washed his mouth out with salt water having performed the dental surgery in his room - the ‘comfiest place I’ve got’.

‘Hygiene wasn’t going through my head, it was just “get this out” - but the relief was worth it.

‘It was worth the massive risk of infection.’

He admits not looking up how to remove the tooth or aftercare and said: ‘It took a lot of balls to do it.’

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He added: ‘If other people are in the same position, it’s horrible. I really feel for them but something has got to change.

Chris hopes to get a dental bridge after saving enough cash and added: ‘I couldn’t recommend it to anyone but it worked for me.’

A spokesman for NHS England and NHS Improvement South East said: ‘If a patient has been clinically assessed as needing urgent treatment which cannot be carried out by a local dental practice they can be referred to one of the urgent dental care hubs which remain in place.’

He added new practices should open in Portsmouth in early 2021 after new contracts are finalised ‘shortly’.

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The University of Portsmouth’s Dental School, who Chris approached for help, said it can register and see unregistered patients directed to it by NHS 111 ‘when able’ but its capacity is ‘dramatically reduced’.

Dreadful situation for it to come to this’

It comes after the number of NHS dentists in Portsmouth has dropped by around a third between 2018/19 and 2019/20. The wider Havant area dropped by half, while Fareham and Gosport saw a 20 per cent reduction.

Provision in the city suffered badly from the collapse when Colosseum Dental shutdown practices in Southsea, Paulsgrove and Portsea affecting around 16,000 people.

NHS South East signed up temporary providers and are set to issue new contracts to practices to plug the gaps – but this has been delayed.

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Portsmouth South MP Stephen Morgan said Chris’ case was ‘yet another example of the sad consequences of the government failing to provide the service levels that are required’.

Roger Batterbury, chairperson of Healthwatch Portsmouth, said he was in ‘absolute shock’ at what happened.

He told The News: ‘It is a dreadful situation that dental care has got to a situation like this in the city where a gentleman felt the need to rip out his own tooth.’

He added: ‘The situation this gentleman suffered is truly appalling and clearly should not have happened, we have heard of other people’s experiences of accessing dental services throughout the pandemic with initially most being shut until they were Covid secure.’

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Mr Batterbury will now take this up with the NHS South East dental procurement team.

‘Removing your own teeth is a major risk’ – top dentist

Experts have warned no-one should ever remove their own teeth - with sepsis a real risk, along with breaking teeth and uncontrollable bleeding.

Portsmouth dentist Phil Gowers, chairman of the Hampshire and Isle of Wight Local Dental Committee, said: ‘I’d never recommend taking out your own teeth - that’s a very bad idea that can go horribly wrong.

‘The obvious thing is sepsis, it kills more than 50,000 people - using (what Chris used) is a recipe for disaster.’

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He added: ‘It’s terrible to hear this tragic story - there are Urgent Dental Centres that are seeing people, it may just be that he had a bad day where there wasn’t enough (appointments).’

Mr Gowers said dentists are currently seeing around 37 per cent of appointments compared to last year, with reductions in capacity due to Covid-19 measures.

Anyone needing emergency dental care and who is not registered should call 111 to organise an appointment at the urgent dental centre.

Closure of three surgeries dealt ‘a kick in the teeth’

Dental care in Portsmouth plummeted when a provider blamed recruitment difficulties for not being able to run anymore.

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Colosseum Dental, owned by a Swiss investment firm, closed three surgeries and left 9,000 people without any provision in July last year.

The News launched our Kick In The Teeth campaign as patients and politicians told us they were outraged.

Some provision has been arranged, with the University of Portsmouth and Bupa Dental Care filling in some gaps. Perfect Smile later also stepped up to temporarily help out at its practices in North End and Cosham.

Appointments were snapped up and a three-month delay in the NHS issuing new contracts has put further pressure on dental patients.

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The Covid-19 crisis delayed the signing of new contracts with providers, with NHS England saying this will be done this autumn.

New formal contracts were expected in April this year, and then again in July but did not materialise.

Roger Batterbury, from Portsmouth Healthwatch, said 50 per cent of enquiries to the watchdog were about dental needs.

He said when dental practices reopened after lockdown services were ‘severely squeezed’.

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Phil Gowers, chairman of the Hampshire and Isle of Wight Local Dental Committee, warned another crisis looms.

Unseen patients with tooth decay and gum disease will need extensive treatment when more patients start to flood back into practices.

This has the potential to go ‘Pete Tong’' he added.

But he said all dentists are working hard. He said: ‘Everyone in the profession is working well together - it's quite wonderful to see where we're working for the best interests of the patients.’

In February this year, councillors wanted assurances practices replacing Colosseum Dental’s work would serve deprived areas in Paulsgrove and Portsea.

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They branded it as ‘not good enough’ that NHS England would provide a new practice in the north and south of the city.

Portsmouth City Council also mooted taking over practices to provide cover.

Last year when Colosseum Dental was about to shut, Portsmouth South MP Stephen Morgan called for NHS England to answer questions in Westminster saying NHS England and the collapsed group had not communicated enough.

A message from the Editor, Mark Waldron

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