Rhys Williams reports on the dentistry crisis unfolding in the NHS
The UK's national dentist trade union has warned of potentially "misleading" claims that Welsh government reforms will free up over 100,000 new appointments under plans that will see patients move to yearly check-ups.
Wales' new chief dental officer Andrew Dickenson has argued the scrapping of six-monthly appointments for most adults would free up slots and allow practices across Wales to take on up to 112,000 new patients a year.
But the British Dental Association (BDA), which represents dentists and dental students across the UK, said the plan was not properly considered, calling the claims the move will generate more appointments “misleading”.
The association in Wales says that most dentists already extend the recall interval beyond six months in line with current guidance.
Russell Gidney, the BDA’s Welsh General Dental Practice Committee chair, said: “The Welsh government is attempting to conjure up new appointments without meaningful investment. Sadly, these claims look like they were cobbled together on the back of an envelope.
“Dentists have worked to similar guidelines for the best part of two decades. The fact is it could take a dozen healthy patients forfeiting annual check-ups to allow one new high-needs patient to be seen.
“Patients across Wales are facing an access crisis, while demoralised dentists are leaving the service in droves. These problems will not be solved with empty soundbites and misleading numbers.”
The shake-up to NHS dentistry in Wales is in an attempt to cut the Covid backlog and make it easier for people to see a dentist.
Prof Dickenson said a vast improvement in oral health among adults over the last two decades has led to a decrease in tooth decay and people wearing dentures, meaning bi-yearly check-ups are now “unnecessary” for many.“What we’ve noticed is that people’s mouth conditions have substantially improved over the last 20 to 30 years to the point they no longer need a routine six-monthly check-up,” he told PA news agency.
“So, we’ve looked at changing dentist’s contracts to ensure they are seeing patients on a needs basis.
“We believe this will give the dentist more flexibility to see patients who actually need their care, and it will improve access for those patients who are currently reporting they find it very difficult to get to see a dentist.”
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Children and under-18s will continue to be offered check-ups every six months, he said.
More than two-thirds (78%) of all NHS dental practices have voluntarily signed up to the changes.
They will be required to open up slots for new patients, which are defined as people who have not yet registered with a dentist, and those who are registered but have not been seen by their dentist in more than four years.
Prof Dickenson said there would be a focus on combating gum disease, which is still prevalent in adults in mid-to-late life, as well as on training more dentists and dental staff in Wales to combat an ongoing recruitment crisis.
There are around 1,690 dentists and 500 hygienists and therapists in Wales, with the only school of dentistry in the country in Cardiff.Amid a high demand for check-ups, there have been reports of some patients waiting desperately for an NHS dentist who have resorted to dangerous DIY treatment.