Patients in Oxfordshire have ranked their dental care amongst the worst in the UK, prompting calls for urgent action.

Rose Hill dentist Lara Saour. She and her colleagues have not been criticised in the survey, but the lack of access to NHS dental treatment has

Surveys carried out this year for each of the area's five primary care trusts (PCTs), showed that the number of people registered for NHS care was so low that the county was among the bottom 20 per cent.

According to 2,137 people questioned, less than 40 per cent said they had access to NHS treatment, and nearly 70 per cent of those not registered for the low-cost care said they would like it.

The figures reflect a continuing problem in the county, where only 16 out of 113 dental practices are accepting new NHS patients.

County councillor Brian Hodgson, who is leading a campaign for improvements in NHS dental care, said: "I think these patient surveys are indicative of the scale of the problem in Oxfordshire.

"I think the Government is beginning to address the problem, but it remains to be seen whether that's going to be enough.

"There are plans for the future but they are long overdue and are not coming quick enough.

"Nevertheless, I think it's good that these surveys have underlined the need for urgent action."

The patient surveys, collated by NHS watchdog the Healthcare Commission, showed that only 32 per cent of those questioned in South East Oxfordshire had NHS care, and 74 per cent of those who did not wanted to be registered.

Only 36 per cent of people in South West Oxfordshire had an NHS dentist, and 72 per cent of the rest wanted the service.

In North East Oxfordshire, 39 per cent get NHS treatment, and 72 per cent of those who do not would like to be registered, and 38 per cent in Oxford City have an NHS dentist, while 72 per cent of those who are not registered would like to find a practice to treat them.

Only Cherwell Vale PCT, covering Chipping Norton and Banbury, was not in the UK's bottom fifth, with 53 per cent of patients registered for low-cost treatment. Of those who did not have access, 58 per cent said they wanted it.

The shortage of NHS dental care in Oxfordshire has already been raised by members of Oxfordshire Health Overview and Scrutiny Committee, who have written to Health Minister John Reid to highlight the issue following calls from Mr Hodgson.

Earlier this year, Dr Reid told the Oxford Mail that he was urging retired dentists to come back to work, and was recruiting more overseas dentists.

Oxford City PCT spokesman Melanie Proudfoot, speaking on behalf of Oxfordshire PCTs, said there were 243 NHS dentists working in Oxfordshire, with 29 vacant dentist posts, and most had between 1,500-2,000 patients on their lists.

She said: "We're aware there need to be more NHS dentists. During the past three months there has been an improvement in the level of access to NHS dentists in Oxfordshire.

"There has been an increase in registrations, with 8,000 adult patients registering and a further 2,500 children registered across the county.

"In addition, the Department of Health has recently allocated £529,000, which will be spent on improving access to NHS dentistry across Oxfordshire."