Increasing concerns about access to NHS dentists and a shortage of general dental practitioners have been highlighted in a survey of health authorities.

The British Dental Association has called on the government to invest£250m over the next five years to tackle the problem.

Half of HAs responding to the BDA survey reported an increased number of calls from the public about problems getting access to a dentist.

A third reported no change and only a sixth reported a reduction in such calls.

Just over 70 per cent of HAs responded to the survey, reporting more than 55,000 calls about access in three months. Applied nationally, the figures suggest that some 80,000 calls were taken by HAs on the subject.

Travelling distance was cited as a problem by 42 HAs - compared with 37 who reported this concern in last year's survey.

HA estimates suggested that it would take an additional 403 high-street dentists - an increase of 3 per cent on current numbers - to 'make a significant difference' to access problems. Applied across England and Wales, figures suggest a shortfall of about 550 dentists.

Half the HAs that responded to the survey believe it is now harder to recruit salaried general dental practitioners than a year ago. Among those advertising for dentists, one in five had advertised abroad.

The survey also found that waiting lists for dental treatment in hospitals are growing in areas such as orthodontics and restorative dentistry. But the numbers waiting for oral surgery were found to be decreasing.

BDA chief executive John Hunt said: 'We are very concerned at the increase in the number of people having problems in finding an NHS dentist. The government must start to address this problem seriously if NHS dentistry is to remain safe in their hands.'

Access to Dental Services and Recruitment of Salaried GDPs - a survey of health authorities. BDA, 64 Wimpole Street, London, W1M 8AL. Free.