Opposition Day Debate on NHS dentistry

Ahead of the debate in the House of Commons on NHS dentistry, tabled by the Labour Party with the Liberal Democrats’ support, we sent this briefing to all members of parliament.

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