DENTAL care in Hyndburn is teetering on crisis point, with not one of the borough's dentists taking on new NHS patients.
The shocking revelation was made this week, at the same time as bosses at the only remaining NHS dental practice in Clayton-le-Moors admitted they were considering going private.
Pickup Street's Clough and Joshi dental practice will decide within the next six months whether to make the change.
Anthony Clough, senior partner, said the decision had to be made because the practice had too many patients. But he said children would not be affected either way, adding: "The only people that would be affected would be the fee-paying patients."
When quizzed about the overall situation in Hyndburn, Mr Derek Cummins, deputy head of modernisation for the Hyndburn and Ribble Valley Primary Care Trust (PCT), admitted there was an acute problem with the provision of dental treatment in the area.
He said: "There are no dentists in Hyndburn accepting new NHS patients at present; there's only one in the whole of the area we cover. If something is not done soon, the problem could become too great."
Responsibility for the issue will pass to the PCT in 2005, but Mr Cummins said the problem had been ongoing for more than 10 years, with Hyndburn having poor dental health especially among children.
Describing the problem as "intractable", he added: "We are starting with a problem situation with the availability of NHS dentists and it's going to take some fixing."
The Government has recognised there is a major problem with NHS dental care across the country and the Department of Health is currently drawing up plans to stop the rot.
But in the meantime, more and more dentists are deciding to go private and the number of people unable to access NHS dental care is soaring.
Mr Cummins added: "Some dentists have left the NHS for certain categories of work and most are considering their options as they are perfectly within their rights to do, but they are obliged to inform the PCT if their status changes."
He said the Hyndburn and Ribble Valley PCT Trust Board had already met to discuss possible solutions and these would have to be examined by the Strategic Health Authority.
A list of new schemes are being considered, such as providing incentives - contributing to start up costs - to new dentists and established practices wanting to bring in a new partner.
Some access centres - where people who have not visited a dentist for years can have treatment at NHS rates - have been set up, but there are none currently operating in Hyndburn.