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Suffolk reaction to new £200m NHS dental recovery plan to boost access to NHS dental care

‘Too little, too late’ – that is the verdict of Suffolk NHS dentistry campaigners after an NHS dental recovery plan was announced today.

The new £200 million nationwide plan to ensure easier and faster access to dental care could see millions more NHS dental appointments offered over the next year.

But campaign group Toothless in England – born out of the Toothless in Suffolk group formed in 2021 – said the dental recovery plan had been ‘a long time coming’ but was too little, too late.

Close up of stone removal procedure at female patient.
Close up of stone removal procedure at female patient.

“The news is still filled with horrifying tales of do-it-yourself dental work and small children being taken to the hospital due to excruciating tooth pain,” said Toothless in England in a stement today.

“Regretfully, those who are currently in needless pain and suffering cannot expect their hope of receiving NHS dentistry anytime soon to improve.”

The Government-funded £200 million NHS dental recovery plan will see NHS dentists given a ‘new patient’ payment of between £15-£50 to treat around a million new patients who have not seen an NHS dentist in two years or more.

Female dentist examining young woman's teeth.
Female dentist examining young woman's teeth.

Victoria Atkins, health and social care secretary, said: “This plan will help anyone who has not been able to see a dentist in the past two years to do so.”

The plan could see up to 2.5 million additional NHS dental appointments delivered for patients over the next year.

The plan sets out how the NHS and Government will drive a focus on prevention and good oral health in young children and deliver an expanded dental workforce.

The plan will also see the government roll out a new ‘Smile For Life’ programme, which will see parents and parents-to-be offered advice for baby gums and milk teeth, with the aim that by the time children go to school every child will see tooth brushing as a normal part of their day.

Dentist: Picture:iStock
Dentist: Picture:iStock

New ways of delivering care in rural and coastal areas will also be rolled out, including launching ‘dental vans’ to help reach isolated communities.

Toothless in England welcomed the Smile for Life programme and said it had ‘long advocated for’ the new dental vans to serve rural towns and villages, offering dental care in underserved and difficult-to-reach areas.

“Tooth decay affects a fifth of youngsters, preventable oral cancers kill patients and terrifying stories of do-it-yourself dentistry are not simply fiction from the novels of Victor Hugo and Charles Dickens from the 1800s,” said Toothless in England.

Under the dental recovery plan, around 240 dentists would be offered one-off payments of up to £20,000 for working in under-served areas for up to three years.

NHS work will also be made more attractive, with the minimum value of activity increasing to £28 (from £23).

In addition, for the first time a water fluoridation programme will be rolled out by Government, which could reduce the number of tooth extractions due to decay in the most deprived areas of the country.

Meanwhile, the health service would increase dental training places by up to 40 per cent by 2031/32.

Amanda Pritchard, NHS chief executive, said: “Recovering dentistry is a priority for the NHS and this plan is a significant step towards transforming NHS dental services for the better.”

The plan, published today, also includes new measures to attract dentists to work in the NHS, including supporting more graduate dentists to work in NHS care. The Government will consult on whether dentists should be required to work in the NHS for a period upon completion of their training.

Toothless in England added: “Whether or not this dental recovery plan will make a positive impact on people's lives will ultimately be decided by the court of public opinion.

“We will continue our campaign demanding an NHS dentist for everyone for many years to come, based on the announcements made today.”

And Louise Ansari, Healthwatch England chief executive, said: “More radical solutions are needed to get NHS dentistry back on track.”