A continuing trend of younger dentists rejecting the NHS in favour of cosmetic dental care could spell trouble for NHS patients.
These are the fears following news of data released by the NHS Information Centre that suggests older dentists now focus on NHS work more than young colleagues – a reversal of the situation over five years.
The proportion of income from NHS work by dentists under 35 years old has nearly halved in a five-year period, according to the figures.
The British Dental Association (BDA) said older dentists may feel more loyalty to the NHS, and patient groups warned the trend could harm NHS care.
However, the data did include some small sample sizes, the BDA said.
The government said cosmetic work was being embraced by young dentists, but maintained that there was still enough for NHS care.
In 2000-1, 65% of the income of dentists under the age of 35 came from the NHS, but by 2005-6 that had nearly halved to 36%.
This compares to dentists in the older age groups who have seen a much smaller change.
Dentists aged 55 and over received 58% of their income from the NHS in 2000-1, but by 2005-6 it had fallen to 47%.
Dentists aged 45 to 54 saw a shift from 55% to 44%.
The growth in private practice over the last few years has mainly been within modern cosmetic practice.
Lester Ellman, of the BDA, said he believed younger dentists did not have such a strong feeling of responsibility to the NHS as older professionals.
‘Dentists who qualified in the 1960s and 1970s were entering a profession that was all about the NHS. There was really no private practice.
‘That only started taking off in the 1990s and, coupled with the growth of cosmetic dentistry, it means newly qualified dentists are coming into a profession which is no longer dominated by the NHS. That seems to be making a difference.’
Barry Cockcroft, the chief dental officer for England, said: ‘The growth in private practice over the last few years has mainly been within modern cosmetic practice, which has been embraced more by younger dentists.
‘This empowers patients to get the treatment they need on the NHS with the option of getting the dental procedure they want where there’s no clinical need.’
But he added: ‘There is no shortage of dentists bidding to provide local NHS dental services.’