The Dentist Magazine.

Dentists challenge parties to address failures on prevention

Published: 18/05/2017

The British Dental Association (BDA) has said political indifference is now jeopardising the sustainability of the dental service in England, as they called on all parties to set out their plans on prevention.

Tooth decay is an almost entirely preventable disease, but remains the number one cause of hospital admissions among young children in the UK.

Dentist leaders hit out at mismanagement of NHS dentistry under successive governments, contending that policymakers have made keeping patient numbers down their chief priority. In England’s cost-limited NHS system, budget is set aside to treat just over half of the population. Direct funding for dental services has fallen by £170m since 2010, with budget topped up by charge increases that discourage patients in need of care. 

As part of a six-point plan, the BDA has called on parties to follow the lead of devolved nations and deliver a truly national programme to tackle health inequalities. It has called for expansion of the Soft Drinks Industry Levy, an end to the reliance on patient charges, sweeping reform of health regulation, and replacement of the failed NHS contract system geared around government targets with a model that rewards prevention and improved health outcomes.

With over 20 per cent of activity in dentistry in England delivered by EU and overseas nationals, the BDA has also insisted that future negotiators act to keep the workforce sustainable. 

Mick Armstrong, chair of the BDA, said, “Political indifference to dentistry will guarantee a preventable disease remains the leading cause of hospital admissions among our children.

“Prevention should be at the heart of any effective healthcare strategy, yet successive governments have left dentists without the plans or priority to deliver on it. As the parties prepare to set out their programmes, oral health must not be left out of the picture.

“The chief priority of policymakers has been to keep patient numbers down. We have budgets set to treat just over half the population, cuts in state funding and charge hikes designed to make patients think twice about treatment. The parties really need to think about reaching out to patients, not erecting new barriers to care.

“Every day dentists are confronting deep and persistent health inequalities, unsupported and underfunded and shackled by failed contracts, overregulation and red tape. The next government must confront these challenges or leave the future of the service in doubt.”

Putting Prevention First - The BDA Manifesto 2017 is available to download at

The BDA's six point plan for oral health

1. A national programme – End the patchwork of provision by supporting a truly national programme to tackle decay among children:

  • Build on tried and tested programmes in devolved nations and local government to give all children the best start in life.
  • Provide both targeted and universal support based on need, including access to free toothbrushes and fluoride toothpaste, supervised brushing and fluoride varnish application.
  • Maintain support for national dental health surveys and other epidemiological research to ensure effective targeting.
  • Develop an engagement campaign modelled on Change for Life, encompassing both new and traditional media, encouraging dental attendance and oral health best practice.
  • Use existing funds from underspends in local budgets to guarantee access to NHS dentistry for all children.
  • Channel proceeds from the Soft Drinks Industry Levy beyond the £415m already committed to school sports to support these initiatives.  


2. Contracts –Deliver an NHS contract system that rewards prevention:

  • Make a decisive break from over a decade of discredited contracts based on the unit of dental activity to help improve health outcomes and access for all.


3. Funding – Provide a fair funding settlement to make NHS dentistry viable:

  • Provide a long-term funding settlement for NHS dentistry that can support the provision of quality care to patients.
  • End the over-reliance on NHS charge revenue. Rule out above-inflation increases and maintain patient contributions as a stable or declining proportion of the NHS dental budget.?


4. Brexit – Guarantee the stability and sustainability of dentistry as the UK leaves the European Union:

  • Provide certainty to dentists from EU countries.
  • Support practices with additional costs for materials and equipment that may emerge through new trade arrangements or changes in the value of Sterling.
  • Ensure both education and immigration policies evolve to ensure UK dentistry remains sustainable in the long term.
  • Give full consideration to the unique challenges facing providers on the border with the Irish Republic.  


5. Sugar –Ensure the Soft Drinks Industry Levy marks the beginning - not the end - of action on sugar:

  • Protect children from junk food marketing everywhere.
  • Restrict in-store promotions of sugary products.
  • Extend the Soft Drinks Industry Levy to include sweetened milk-based, sports and energy drinks. 


6. Regulation – Fix a broken system that has failed patients and practitioners:

  • Deliver primary legislation to support efficient health watchdogs capable of delivering ‘Right Touch’ regulation.
  • Put an end to the culture that encourages ‘defensive dentistry’ and jeopardises patient care.