England is heading for an "imminent" recruitment crisis for NHS dentists fuelled by low staff morale which will force some patients to travel further for treatment, a union has warned.
The struggle to fill vacancies saw 68% of NHS practices in England report recruitment troubles in the past year while 50% of NHS practices had similar problems in the previous year, according to the British Dental Association (BDA).
The figures from the BDA survey of general dental practitioners are based on answers to 1,212 questionnaires.
Job dissatisfaction along with low morale and motivation is a complaint in the industry, according to the BDA, which has previously reported that 58% of NHS dentists say they are planning to leave the service in the next five years.
Eddie Crouch, the vice chairman of the BDA which is the professional association and trade union for dentists in the UK, said: "It is a damning indictment of current policy that the dentists who go over and above with NHS care are now paying the price in low morale.
"The constant treadmill of targets and pay cuts mean something has to give, and services cannot be maintained when practices are unable to fill vacancies.
"Failure to act is already leaving millions of patients across the country in limbo. We look to ministers to take responsibility and show dedicated health professionals that NHS care is not an unattractive option."
A Health and Social Care Department spokesman said: "We are absolutely committed to supporting dentists and making sure the public can access top quality care.
"We are currently trialling a new reformed contract which better supports dentists, and have near record numbers of dentists working in the NHS."
A total of 24,007 dentists worked on NHS contracts in 2016/2017 which is 82 less than in 2015/2016 but 184 more than worked on NHS contracts a year earlier, according to the spokesman.
He added that there are over 3,800 more dentists working in the NHS now than when the current contract started in 2006/2007.