Dental check upNHS England is looking for ways to shape the future of dental services in England, following a call to action.

The NHS currently spends £3.4 billion every year on dental care, and sees more than one million patients pass through the doors of an NHS dental setting every week. Additionally, the oral health of the population has steadily improved over the last 40 years, as has access and availability of services.

However, there are still considerable challenges facing access to dental services. There is a wide variation in levels of dental disease across England, with the highest levels seen 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”.

Further reading: Study links gum disease to asthma risk

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.

Professor Kevin Fenton, National Director of Health and Wellbeing at Public Health England, said: “PHE welcomes the NHS England ‘Call to Action’ on improving dental care and oral health. PHE is committed to improving oral health in England through promoting healthy lifestyles and supporting local authorities and professional dental organisations. Although England’s record on oral health compares well with the rest of the world, significant inequalities remain. The causes of these inequalities are also often linked to wider health issues, so it is important that we work with dental teams to ensure that all the key messages support not just oral health, but general health as well.

“We will continue to work with local authorities, NHS England and others, in order to ensure that dental services are supported to play a bigger role in improving oral health and general health across England.”