Government has no power to ensure foreign dentists can speak English as many come and work in the private sector, health secretary Andrew Lansley has admitted.
He said while moves announced by government last month setting out strict language criteria for doctors wanting to practice in this country should apply in the same way to dentists, it was not easy to control as the free movement between Europe could not be stopped.
Speaking to Dentistry Mr Lansley said: 'The problem is this, where doctors are concerned we have a structure of responsible officers, part of whose responsibility for the future under the new arrangements would be to ensure that the doctors for whom they are responsible for professionally have the competencies, including language necessary to practice.
'By and large, dentists are in private practice as well as NHS practice individually so that responsibility falls to the GDC so it is their job to make sure they have the necessary competencies. But the way the European Commission works, they must not act in a way that deprives dentists of their ability to practice in this country as that would be to frustrate the free movement of Labour across the European Union.
'The GDC may impose restrictions on someone's practice but if they can practise as a dentist in Poland, they can practise in Britain.'
His remarks were met with criticisms from MPs who believe the new language rules should extend to dentists.
Shipley MP Philip Davies said: 'It is not about stopping free movement of people if they can speak English, but it is about ensuring patient safety and that the dentist can fully understand the problems and can also explain what they need to to their patient.
'To say language skills cannot be controlled when they are clearly so vital is a top cop-out and complete nonsense. If dentists want to come they are welcome but speaking English should be a requirement.
Dr Judith Husband, chair of Education, Ethics and the Dental Team for the BDA, said: 'The United Kingdom has seen significant inbound migration of dentists from Europe in recent years. It is essential that all practitioners can communicate effectively with their patients in order to explain treatment options and obtain informed consent.
'BDA believes that the General Dental Council should have the right to check the language proficiency of candidates as part of the registration process. This would help ensure patient safety, as well as clarity for the applicants themselves.'