Improving Dental Care and Oral Health – A Call to Action

NHS England is calling for a debate about the future shape of dental services in England.

It follows last summer’s “The NHS belongs to the people – a call to action”, which encouraged patients, the public, staff and partners to join the debate about the sustainability challenges facing the NHS in England.

NHS dental services are provided in primary care and community settings, as well as in hospitals for more specialised care. The NHS in England spends £3.4 billion per year on dental care, with over a million patient contacts with NHS dental services each week.

The oral health of the population has been steadily improving over the past 40 years, and access to NHS dental services has improved considerably over the last 5 years.

However, despite these figures access to services remains a problem in some areas. There is also a wide variation in levels of dental disease across England, with the highest levels of disease in more deprived areas. Dental professionals agree that more could be done to focus on prevention, and to promote self care by patients and a better appreciation of good oral health generally. NHS England also wants to explore the potential wider role that dental professionals can play in promoting a healthy lifestyle and in identifying people at higher risk of other diseases, such as diabetes or hypertension. The engagement exercise is supported by partner organisations including the British Dental Association.

The Call to Action gives NHS England the opportunity to both improve outcomes for patients and benefit professionals by reforming the current contract system so we move to a more preventative, outcome based approach.

Barry Cockcroft, Chief Dental Officer for NHS England, said:

“We should be proud of the contribution that NHS dental services make in improving the health of the nation. But we know that more can be done to improve the oral health of adults, young people and children. We want to improve access to NHS dental services, reduce health inequalities and remove financial inefficiencies. Doing nothing is not an option, and this “call to action” has the support of professional bodies. I encourage all those with an interest in how NHS dental services are planned and delivered to take part in the debate and to make their views known. We want to hear a range of opinions from those who work in health and social care, patients and the public. This is not about cutting services –  it is about improving oral health through innovation and best practice, underpinned by patient and professional insight”.

John Milne, Chair of the General Dental Practice Committee of the British Dental Association, said:

“It is really important for all of us that we have a clear view on the strategic direction of NHS dentistry in England. This call for action introduces a significant debate, and raises some vital issues around the future direction for dentistry. The BDA will certainly be responding to the process on behalf of dentists, and I would encourage colleagues across England to feed in their own views.”

NHS England will work closely with a range of national partners across health and social care, including patient groups, the British Dental Association and other professional organisations, Health Education England, Public Health England and Dental Local Professional Networks to develop a strategic approach to the commissioning of dental services.