This short briefing provides key facts and presents possible actions to take:
- Decades of policy neglect have left the future of NHS dental care hanging in the balance, with the result that universal NHS dentistry has most likely gone for good.
- Funding for NHS dentistry has not kept pace with inflation. The dysfunctions of the contract regularly mean that hundreds of millions of pounds for dentistry in England go unspent: this year they have been moved to shore up wider NHS services.
- Compared to England’s 4.3 dentists per 10,000 population in 2021/22, Northern Ireland had 6, Scotland had 5.9 and Wales had 4.6. In England, the number carrying out NHS work per head of the population has not risen in a decade.
- Children’s oral health is a particular concern: tooth extractions remain the primary reason for hospital admissions for 6-10-year-olds, and more deprived children suffer most.
- There is significant geographical variation in the availability of NHS dentists, with rural and coastal areas experiencing the fewest NHS dentists per head.
- Radical action will be needed to prevent its further decline: extensive reforms to dental contracts combined with a huge boost in staffing are essential.
- Even with these measures it is likely that politicians will need to re-evaluate the core NHS dentistry “offer” of universal, comprehensive care, which has already been lost in practice.
- It may be time to move to a model where free check-ups and prevention are still offered universally, and are genuinely available, but NHS dental treatment and orthodontics are means tested for those not in vulnerable or high-risk groups