Healthy people will only need a check-up with their NHS dentist every two years under a push to improve access to dental care.
The NHS in England has announced a number of measures to help get more people to see their dentist.
This includes a push for more people to take advantage of longer intervals between check-ups to free up access for more urgent cases.
Meanwhile, dentists have been ordered to publish up-to-date information on whether or not they are taking new NHS patients in a bid to improve access for patients.
Patients have been known to call up to 40 practises to find an NHS dentist taking on new patients.
The NHS will also give dental therapists more responsibilities.
Dental therapists can carry out a range of treatments including fillings, performing X-rays and putting in crowns.
Under previous guidance they were only allowed to do a filling after being instructed by a dentist but the NHS has said they can now instigate the procedure.
This will free up time for dentists to conduct more complex work, the NHS said.
During the pandemic, we invested £1.7bn to support dentistry. Today we are announcing important changes to help ensure more patients can access the dental care they need. ⬇️https://t.co/Are0uqIFKa
— Steve Barclay (@SteveBarclay) July 19, 2022
A letter to dental practices setting out the reforms states there is “limited evidence” for the need for six-monthly check-ups for people with “low oral health risk”.
“Patients accessing NHS dental care should be advised of their personalised recall interval based upon an assessment of their oral health risk,” it adds.
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“For some people, this might mean that a recall interval of less than six months may be advised. However, for those with good oral health we expect to see recall intervals more usually to be 12 months, or even 24 months.”
Many people are used to checking in with their dentist every six months for a full assessment of their mouth, teeth and gums.
This gives dentists an opportunity to look for signs of tooth decay or symptoms of oral cancer, among other illnesses.
This is a very small first step.
Millions are unable to access vital care.
These tweaks will do little to improve access or halt the exodus of dentists from the NHS.
We've seen a decade of savage cuts with no equal.
NHS dentistry needs fair funding & real reform. https://t.co/XMfhLgHM6Z
— BDA (@TheBDA) July 19, 2022
The plans have emerged as part of a reformed contract for NHS dentists.
But the British Dental Association (BDA) said the measures only “paper over the cracks”.
It warned that there are no dental therapists “waiting in the wings” to step up and care for more patients.
Shawn Charlwood, chair of the BDA’s General Dental Practice Committee, said: “These are modest, marginal changes that will not fix the rotten foundations this service is built on.
“Our patients need ministers to do more than paper over the cracks. These tweaks will do precious little to keep dentists in the NHS or ensure millions get the care they urgently need.”
Thanks to your feedback, @NHSEngland have announced steps to ensure better dental support for people with complex problems and improve the information. But these reforms need to be just the start – our response #fixNHSdentistry https://t.co/zcmLfBzexX pic.twitter.com/Wx2rKFG2b8
— Healthwatch England (@HealthwatchE) July 19, 2022
Chief Dental Officer for England Sara Hurley said: “The NHS is determined to overhaul dental provision, with a focus on increasing access to necessary dental care and supporting prevention, today’s reforms are the first step on that journey.
“NHS dental staff are working hard to recover services, but the key to delivering this will be reform – these changes announced today will help teams carry out even more treatments and help address the inevitable backlogs that have built up during the pandemic.”
Health and Social Care Secretary Steve Barclay said: “Improving patient access to NHS dental care is a priority and these changes are an important step, while also rewarding dentists more fairly for providing more complex care, allowing the best performing practices to see more patients and making better use of the range of professionals working in the sector such as nurses hygienists, and dental therapists.”
Chris McCann, from Healthwatch England, which has been campaigning for better dentistry access, said: “The changes will make it easier for people to see which dentists are taking on new NHS patients.
“Those with more complex dental problems should also have better access to care because of the shift in how the NHS pays dentists. Ultimately we hope these combined measures will end long waiting times, the extended periods of pain many people suffer, and the extreme cases of DIY dentistry we have seen.”