A north Shropshire town could see a free children’s dental service downgraded – because the practice can’t find enough patients.

Spa Dental in Whitchurch says it’s struggling to fill its children’s NHS appointments after employing a specialist dental therapist to increase capacity earlier this year.

Now “disappointed” practice managers say their staff may have to be deployed elsewhere, where there is higher demand for the service.

“We’ve increased the number of NHS appointments available for children up to 18 but to our surprise and concern, we are not able to fill all the places,” said Vanessa Giraud from Spa Dental Group.

“Our concern is that if we cannot fill these diary slots we will need to relocate our therapist to a different practice within the group where there is demand. It would be a huge loss for the children in the Whitchurch community.”

The practice says it’s “surprised and concerned” at the low takeup, and added that similar children’s dentistry services it operates in other areas are oversubscribed. The group runs eight other rural dentists across England, and also operates in Herefordshire and Gloucestershire.

In October, the practice made an extra 500 appointments available for under 18’s in the area, but Managing Director Christopher Hilling says demand in north Shropshire has not matched their experience of rural practices elsewhere.

“We’ve got some very good therapists who are doing a very good job. Down in our Plymouth and Saltash practices we are just flooded with children, and we could almost run 24 hours per day,” he said.

“In Whitchurch we have NHS children’s appointments all day every Thursday and Saturday and alternative Wednesdays, but not enough children to fill the sessions.

“The problem is that it may become non-viable for us. We’d just have to redeploy and reduce the hours. It would be a huge disappointment if we have to reduce the number of sessions because they run at a loss.”

Nationally, 38.7% of children had not received the annual NHS checkup recommended in health service guidelines over the past 12 months, according to research commissioned by the House of Commons Library and released in September.

In response, the Department of Health and Social Care said ministers were preparing to announce further measures to “improve” access to NHS dental surgeries.

“We fund more than £3 billion of NHS dentistry a year and are taking preventative measures to improve children’s oral health, such as expanding water fluoridation schemes,” said a spokesperson.

“We have also announced plans to increase dental training places by 40% and recently launched a consultation to better utilise the skills of dental hygienists and therapists.”