Plans to establish a new dentistry school at the UEA to help tackle the region's dental care crisis have moved a step closer.

Following a combined effort with Norfolk's MPs, the university has announced the formation of a Norwich Dental Development Centre.

The institution will support education and training needs for the region's dentists and is viewed by UEA bosses as a major step towards launching a bid for an undergraduate School of Dentistry.

Norwich Evening News: The new development centre will be established at the University of East AngliaThe new development centre will be established at the University of East Anglia (Image: Denise Bradley)

"The shortage of NHS dentist availability in the East of England has been widely reported," said prof David Maguire, vice-chancellor at the University of East Anglia. 

"This centre is a first step to help develop more dentistry skills across the region, supporting recruitment and retention.  

"We would, however, still urge the government to accelerate its plans to offer additional undergraduate dentistry training to help secure the future supply of dentists and dental practitioners which the East of England so desperately needs."

Norwich Evening News: UEA vice chancellor David MaguireUEA vice chancellor David Maguire (Image: University of East Anglia)

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Norwich and Norfolk have been described by experts as "dental deserts" - with statistics revealing just one NHS dentist for every 2,600 people living in the region.

And despite the announcement of a new development centre in the area, campaign group Toothless in Norfolk say it will not be enough to tackle the crisis.

"The only announcement we all want to hear is from the government announcing a new NHS dental contract system, one that will retain and attract dentists into providing our communities with the care they so urgently need," said campaign coordinator Mark Jones.

Norwich Evening News: Toothless in Norfolk campaign coordinator Mark JonesToothless in Norfolk campaign coordinator Mark Jones (Image: Toothless in Norfolk)

"Hope of a brass plaque on a new university building just won’t cut it, and the sooner Norfolk’s elected representatives understand this the better.

"As far as improving oral health in Norfolk, this announcement won’t make a jot of difference as parents continue to watch their children suffer with tooth decay, and adults search in vain for relief from painful abscesses and broken teeth.

Norwich Evening News: Campaigners say the development centre is not enough to tackle the dental crisis in NorfolkCampaigners say the development centre is not enough to tackle the dental crisis in Norfolk (Image: Newsquest)

"They need the NHS to help them today."

Norfolk's MPs, who have all campaigned for improved oral healthcare services in the region, welcomed the news of a development centre.

Jerome Mayhew has been particularly vocal in his push for a new School of Dentistry, with the Broadland MP viewing it as the best way of addressing the region's crisis.

Norwich Evening News: Broadland MP, Jerome MayhewBroadland MP, Jerome Mayhew (Image: UK Parliament)

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"Since I was elected, I have campaigned for better access to dental treatment in Broadland," he said.

"I am therefore glad that the government has responded, and I welcome the government’s dental strategy. 

"I will continue to work with the UEA to establish a dental development centre and campaign for a full dental training school."

A fresh push for the school is expected to be made when the government reopens the national bidding process for training places.

The university submitted a bid to Health Education England in 2005, but it was not selected as other regions were deemed to have greater demand.

Norwich Evening News: Norwich South MP Clive LewisNorwich South MP Clive Lewis (Image: Newsquest)

Norwich South MP Clive Lewis said: "I support UEA's Norwich Dental Development Centre initiative and its ultimate aim of establishing a School of Dentistry at the university.

"It is unacceptable that dentistry remains severely underfunded, and it's the only area of the English health service that has seen its budget decline since the Conservatives took power in 2010.

"The evidence suggests that if we can encourage people to train as dentists in Norwich, they are more likely to remain in the area and work here."

Norwich Evening News: Norwich North MP Chloe SmithNorwich North MP Chloe Smith (Image: PA)

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Norwich North MP Chloe Smith also voiced her "strong support" for the project.

"From my own constituency dental survey, I know how hard it is for residents to find a dentist locally, and I'm concerned that NHS appointments for children are in decline," she said. 

"I have been working with the UEA for some time to develop the possibility of a dental training facility, which will bring more dentists to Norwich and Norfolk. 

"I want this to make sure there's the right care for today's and tomorrow's residents."