A London Assembly report has revealed that the capital has one of the lowest uptake levels of NHS dentistry in the country.
The number of NHS dentists in London is 52 per 100,000 people, compared with a national average of 42 to every 100,000 people, but only 51% of the city’s population went to an NHS dentist between March 2005-2007.
The report, titled Teething Problems, also revealed that about 205,000 adults in London may never have visited a dentist.
The Health and Public Services Committee has recommended changes to the dental charge banding structure as a result of the report’s findings.
Joanne McCartney, chair of the Assembly’s Health and Public Services Committee, said: ‘The capital has one of the lowest uptake levels in the country and this is a serious public health issue. Left untreated, poor oral health can lead to serious health consequences such as tooth loss and infection.’
Although the report showed a good overall number of NHS dentists there were wide variations across the city. In Barnet, Redbridge, Ealing and Haringey there are more than 40 NHS dentists accepting new fee-paying adult patients, but Sutton, Merton and Brent have none.
The report identified that the new charging scheme introduced in April 2006 may discourage people from regularly going to a dentist and had significantly increased some of the costs of treatment.
It recommended the Department of Health revised the dental charge banding structure to encourage people to go to the dentist regularly. Primary Care Trusts were advised to improve publicity about local dentistry services including charges and eligibility for free or reduced-cost treatment.
The British Dental Association (BDA) welcomed the review. Chief executive Peter Ward said: ‘This report highlights the problems many Londoners experience trying to get NHS dental care. Difficulties accessing NHS dentistry, confusion about dental charges and shortfalls in patient charge revenue are familiar to patients and dentists across England and Wales.
‘The Department of Health must listen to the London Assembly and consider how it can revise the current NHS dental contract to build preventive care into the way the system works.’