Six million fewer people go for NHS dental check-ups since before the pandemic

Almost six million fewer adults have seen an NHS dentist in the last two years compared to before the pandemic, data show.

Adults should not wait longer than two years between dental check ups, according to official guidance by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE).

But the latest official figures, from NHS Dental, show 16.4 million adults in England were seen for treatment in the 24 months to June, compared to 22 million in the two years to June 2019 – a drop of 25.3 per cent.

The number of patients seen for NHS dental treatment also dropped by almost 10 per cent compared to last year, with 18.1 million adults seen for NHS dental treatment in the 24 months to June 2021.

Practices were instructed to close and cease all routine dental care from March 25 to June 8 2020. Estimates suggest more than 44 million NHS dental appointments have been lost since the lockdown in England.

Experts have warned patients are increasingly turning to “DIY dentistry” after they have struggled to access NHS dental care.

‘On its last legs’

MPs were told earlier this year the NHS was “disincentivising” dentists from taking on new patients under the current contract.

Proposed dental reforms by NHS England last month suggested people should take advantage of longer gaps between check-ups to free up appointments for more urgent cases.

The latest figures also show that 26.4 million courses of treatment were delivered by NHS dentists between April 2021 and March 22, more than double the 12 million reported in the previous 12 months – which were heavily impacted by the pandemic.

Some 5.6 million children were seen in the 12 months up to June 2022, a 42 per cent increase to the 12 months up to June 2021 when 3.9 million were seen, but 20 per cent lower than the seven million in the 12 months to June 2019.

The British Dental Association (BDA) said the figures showed NHS dentistry was “on its last legs” and underlined the need for radical and urgent change.

‘The new normal’

Eddie Crouch, BDA chair, said: “What we’re seeing isn’t a recovery, but a service on its last legs.

“The Government will be fooling itself and millions of patients if it attempts to put a gloss on these figures.

“NHS dentistry is lightyears away from where it needs to be.

“Unless ministers step up and deliver much needed reform and decent funding, this will remain the new normal.”

An NHS spokesman said: “The latest data show dental services are recovering post-pandemic, with over 26 million patient treatments delivered last year – up 120 per cent from the year before, along with 1.7 million more children getting seen by an NHS dentist.

“To further support the ongoing restoration of NHS dentistry, we recently announced the first significant changes to dentistry since 2006, helping practices to improve access for the patients that need dental care the most.”

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