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A mum says she "feels like a drug addict" due to the appearance of her teeth after not having dental treatment for years.
She once had the "perfect smile" but now says she been refused treatment by almost every practice in her area unless she is willing to pay privately.
Lou-ann Potter, from Leicester, developed a severe phobia of dentists when she went in for basic treatment six years ago and needed anaesthesia to numb her mouth.
The dentist hit a nerve causing her to go to hospital, where it was discovered she had blood poisoning.
After the "traumatic experience" the mum didn't visit the dentist for years, fearing that the same thing could happen again.
Her dad's recent death inspired her to finally overcome her anxieties and seek treatment.
She told Leicestershire Live: "I stopped going to visit my dad because I was too ashamed of how I looked.
"When he died, I thought I am not going to let this stop me anymore."
The 39-year-old works in the hospitality industry and her work has also been affected by her appearance.
She added: "The pandemic was and is a frightening experience for everyone.
"But for me, the face masks were a Godsend as I was able to work confidently when restrictions eased because no-one could see my teeth."
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Finally feeling ready to conquer her fears, Lou-ann says she has tried to register with every dentist surgery in the area and city centre.
As an NHS patient, the mum said she was refused registration for herself, her husband and four children because they couldn't pay privately.
But in desperation, the mum forked out £45 for a private check-up and a further £65 for a consultation before being told that the cost of her treatment would be £3,000.
Lou-ann said: "I'm just devastated. As the sole earner of a family of six, there is no way I could afford the prices they were offering."
She has now spent months trying to get her family registered to a practice with still no success.
"We have been constantly ringing dentists only to be turned away and told to try somewhere else or pay private.
"The condition of my teeth is really bad and I just want to be able to smile again."
A dentist at 44 Dental Care in Leicester said the situation will 'only get worse.'
Dr Altaaf Hathiari said: "We have a small NHS contract which is capped at how many treatments we can carry our per year.
"There is no scope to increase this cap regardless of demand. We only offer appointments to our existing patients."
The dentist added that the coronavirus pandemic has "not made any difference" to these current circumstances.
Data from the organisation suggests that 80% of people who contacted it in the first three months of the year said they had struggled to access timely care.
The number of complaints about dentistry rose by 22% during the first three months of 2021 compared with the preceding three months.
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