DENTAL patients are scrambling to get appointments in Bicester despite the town's bid to live up to its 'healthy town' status.

Healthwatch Oxfordshire has launched a two-week project looking into health in the town and early responses show a growing problem with the town's dentists.

The health watchdog said the main concern patients have come back with so far is the problem in getting a dentist appointment, and having to travel to places such as Oxford for emergency appointments.

And the revelation comes after Healthwatch Oxfordshire set up shop in Bicester on Friday to launch the project, speaking with patients, offering support and checking people's blood pressure.

Healthwatch executive director Rosalind Pearce said: "One thing we picked up from quite a few people on Friday was the difficulties they are facing getting access to dental surgeries and how people are frequently having to travel elsewhere.

"This obviously is a big issue for ensuring children are getting appointment and also making sure people who need emergency dentist appointments aren't having to travel to places like Oxford.

"Bicester is the second town we are going into and spending a couple of weeks to make ourselves available to talk to patients on the street about what health support there is in the town."

Unlike the national problem of patients securing GP appointments, the latest findings from Healthwatch regarding the stress on Bicester's dental surgeries are not something Ms Pearce had heard of too often in the county.

NHS England said it was aware of the high demand facing four surgeries that accept NHS patients including Causeway Dental Practice in Causeway, Market Square Dental Surgery in Market Square, Bicester Dental Care in Sheep Street and Greytown Dental Practice in Sheep Street.

Bicester Town Mayor Les Sibley, who also headed along to the health project launch said: "Being able to secure dental appointments has been a big issue for Bicester.

"It becomes a problem when you have a shortage of facilities such as these and in a town that is growing so fast.

"We should be providing more facilities locally and not letting the town expand without having the infrastructure in place to support it."

NHS England spokeswoman Annie Tysom said: “We are aware that the four dental practices in Bicester are experiencing high demand for appointments.

"We continue to work with the dental practices in Bicester and offer additional funding to practices for extra appointments for patients to help with this."

"We will continue to work with the dental practices in Bicester and the Local Dental Committee on dental services for the town for the future.”

As the 'top of the list' for a number of concerned patients, Healthwatch said dental surgery availability would be among the feedback it will compile and submit to the Oxfordshire Clinical Commissioning Group and the Health Overview and Scrutiny Committee.

Ms Pearce added: "We also heard quite a lot of positive comments also about the town and its work to become a 'healthy town'.

"It is a brilliant idea to have health built into a town and developing an area not only around health but encouraging people to live healthy live with green spaces and more activities.

"We had a few people mention the healthy routes which the council have painted and said what a great idea they are."

Healthwatch Oxfordshire will be at Bicester Market on Friday and again the following week to speak with residents.

NJS England said patients can contact NHS 111 or visit the NHS Choices website to find their nearest alternative dental practice.

People can also be seen at the Oxford Community Dental Service - contact NHS 111 for details.