Dentistry in England: A national disgrace?

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Dentistry in England: A national disgrace?

DIY dentistry, dental deserts, staff shortages—the list of issues contributing to the dental crisis in the National Health Service in English is long. (Image: AJR_photo/Shutterstock)

LONDON, UK: The British government has recently published the much-anticipated recovery plan for National Health Service (NHS) dentistry in a policy paper, yet many dental professionals have found it to be somewhat underwhelming. Primarily designed to enhance the availability of dental services in the country for those desperately seeking dental care, the plan falls short of meeting the government’s stated ambitions and fails to effectively address the overwhelming backlog and to resurrect dentistry in England.

NHS dentistry is on a slippery slope. Just recently, the British Dental Association (BDA) described it as a national embarrassment, saying on its website: “Ministers need to take some responsibility. A wealthy twenty-first-century nation is slipping back to the Victorian era on their watch.”

The country is seeing a concerning incidence of dental caries and dental sepsis in toddlers, a DIY dentistry epidemic, unattainable NHS targets and the return of scurvy. Additionally, the number of dentists providing care in the state-funded NHS stands at its lowest level in a decade. According to data from the Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development, the UK has a shocking 49 public dentists per 100,000 inhabitants.

“The government keeps saying it wants everyone to be able to access NHS dentistry. But there’s no sign of a credible plan to make that a reality, and no willingness to break from the failed contract,” the BDA said in a press release.

Unable to access dental care in their own country, some UK nationals are resorting to seeking it in Ukraine, despite it currently being a war zone. Worryingly, the statistics do not paint an optimistic picture. According to data published in The Economist, the UK trails behind both Ukraine and Rwanda when it comes to timely access to care—an especially sobering fact in light of the last being a developing country.

Faster, simpler, fairer

Access to dental care is now promised to be faster, simpler and fairer. Seeking to ease the crisis, the UK government will now be offering financial compensation ranging from £15 (€18) to £50 to dentists who accept new patients, in order to ease the staffing shortage. The total government funding for this step is £200 million. Approximately 240 dentists will additionally be offered one-off payments of up to £20,000 for working for at least three years in underserved areas.

Other measurements include a major focus on prevention and good oral health in young children and the launch of dental vans to help reach isolated communities. Plans are also in place to expand the NHS dental workforce. This includes increasing the number of dental undergraduate training places and facilitating the recruitment of overseas dentists.

“The health service will now introduce a wide range of practical measures to help make it easier for people to see a dentist, from incentivising dentists to take on new patients to supporting dentists to be part of the NHS in areas where access is challenging,” NHS England CEO Amanda Pritchard said.

However, many dental professionals have expressed doubt over the new reform. Dr Shawn Charlwood, chair of the BDA’s General Dental Practice Committee, commented that the recovery plan was not worthy of the title. He noted: “It won’t halt the exodus from the workforce or offer hope to millions struggling to access care.”

“Nothing here meets government’s stated ambitions, or makes this service fit for the future,” he concluded.

The policy paper, titled Faster, Simpler and Fairer: Our Plan to Recover and Reform NHS Dentistry, can be accessed here.

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