A new report commissioned by the Patients Association has found problems with funding, prevention work and patient experiences.
The NHS is struggling to fund specialist dental treatments in many areas, according to the survey of Primary Care Trusts, and more than half said they had trouble funding crowns, bridges, root canal work and orthodontics.
The report – The New Dental Contract – Full of Holes and Causing Pain? – said: ‘PCTs complain there is widespread lack of funds for orthodontics and other specialist treatments and cite this funding gap as the reason for not implementing best practice.
‘There is increasing concern for the preventive role of dentistry in detection of oral health disease.’
The Patients Association said patients faced ‘unnecessary pain and cost’ and is calling for a wholesale rethink of government dental policy.
Overall, the survey – funded by an educational grant from dental plan providers Denplan – found an ‘unacceptably wide variation’ in dental services across England.
This week it was also revealed that younger dentists are performing less NHS work than in previous years and there’s a fear this will eventually leave the NHS without a sufficient number dentists.
The Patients Association carried out the survey as part of a wider review following the introduction of the new NHS dentistry contract.
Questionnaires were sent to the chairmen and dental commissioners of 150 PCTs in England and 112 replied – 59% of these said they had difficulty funding orthodontic, periodontic and endodontic treatment.
The report also revealed that more than four in 10 PCTs were unhappy with the funding for NHS dentistry, and over half were not convinced that they exemplified best practice in this area.
Loss of patient registration data and detail of treatment provided by dentists means that PCTs are navigating in the dark, unaware of patient numbers and are forced to rely on Units of Dental Activity (UDAs) data for paying dentists.
The number of complaints to PCTs is also rising, with the majority of concerns surrounding the charging system, orthodontics or finding an NHS dentist.
Katherine Murphy, the director of communications at the Patients Association, said: ‘Patients are taxed more than ever to provide their health services and so are entitled to the best service for that money. The new dental contract… has destroyed the previous relationship that existed between dentist and patient.’
Ministers maintain that increasing access to NHS dentistry remains a top priority and more dentists had been recruited.
This week, Health Minister Ann Keen promised that new NHS training places will be made available to dentistry graduates in areas of highest patient need.
The Government is also making available £32 million to meet the cost of vocational training for high numbers of dentistry graduates over three years starting in 2009.
Health Minister Ann Keen said: ‘Increasing access to NHS dentistry is a top priority for this government and that is why we announced last year that we would increase funding in this area by over £200million, and have ringfenced this to ensure it is spent on dentistry alone.’