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NHS dentists: How we're helping more patients to get appointments

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Improving access to primary care is one of the key priorities of the Health and Social Care Secretary, who is committed to making it easier for patients to see a dentist.

During the pandemic we supported dental practices with £1.7 billion to ensure services remained available to patients once restrictions were dropped, and we invest £3billion into dentistry every year.

This government has introduced a range of measures to improve access to NHS dentistry in England and we will soon publish a plan to boost access and improve services further.

Here’s everything you need to know about what we’ve done so far.

How are we helping more people get a dentist appointment?

  • We’re investing more than £3 billion a year to deliver NHS dentistry.
  • And last year we made the most significant changes to the dentistry contract since 2006, by introducing a range of reforms to encourage more dentists to offer NHS work – increasing the number of appointments available and making it easier for patients to get the NHS dental treatment they need.
  • The reforms included:
    • The publication of skill mix guidance to clarify how dental practices can utilise dental therapists and dental hygienists, including that they can open and close a course of treatment, so that practices are best utilising their entire workforce.
    • Increasing the amount of money practices receive from the NHS for high-need patients by increasing the payments for more complex or high-volume treatments within band two.
    • A new requirement for dental practices to update the NHS website at least every 90 days, so patients are able to see which practices are accepting new patients.
  • The reforms have been received well so far, but we know there is more to do and we will be publishing a plan with further reforms shortly.
  • Also to note, the number of dental treatments between April 2021 and March 2022 has almost doubled. Around 26.4 million courses of treatment were delivered by NHS dentists – compared to 12 million courses of treatment in the previous 12 months.

What are you doing to boost the dental workforce?

What are you doing to help more children get the dental care they need?

  • The number of children seen by NHS dentists increased by around 44% last year.
  • The package of improvements outlined above are designed to improve access and better target care for patients with higher oral health needs, including children – with further reforms planned later this year.
  • We are also working to improve children’s oral health, and we have taken action to expand water fluoridation schemes – which can reduce the level of decay amongst 5-year-olds by up to 28% in the most deprived areas.

 What financial support are you providing to help people get dental treatment?

  • We offer exemptions to dental charges. You are entitled to free NHS dental care if you are:
    • under 18, or under 19 and in full-time education
    • pregnant or have had a baby in the previous 12 months
    • being treated in an NHS hospital and your treatment is carried out by the hospital dentist (patients may have to pay for any dentures or bridges)
    • receiving low-income benefits, or you're under 20 and a dependant of someone receiving low-income benefits.
  • Support is also available through the NHS Low Income Scheme, for those patients who are not eligible for exemption or full remission.
  • Further information is here:

Why have dental charges gone up?

  • Despite rising inflation, dental charges remained frozen since 2020. This proportionate rise came into force on 24 April 2023 and will ensure NHS dental patients continue to receive high-quality care and treatment.
  • The uplift of 8.5% is below the Consumer Prices Index, which has risen by 17.9% since December 2020.
  • A written ministerial statement announcing the uplift is available here: Written statements - Written questions, answers and statements - UK Parliament

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