Almost 100 dental practices are now being inspected every week, with a controversial regime in full swing.
The Care Quality Commission (CQC) inspected a total of 3,469 surgeries in the first eight-and-a-half months of the 2012-13 financial year, MPs were told.
The watchdog said it was unable to confirm that all dentists were given prior notice of the inspectors coming to call, because such information was ‘not held centrally’.
The ‘vast majority’ of inspections of care homes and under large premises are carried out unannounced, the CQC said.
However, smaller providers – such as dentists – are meant to be ‘alerted for practical reasons, in advance of the CQC's arrival’, it added.
The figures follow the introduction of compulsory registration with the CQC, from last April, a move that triggered howls of protest from many dentists.
The organisation was accused of inflicting chaos during a ‘farcical registration process’ – with the threat of suspension for any dentists that failed to comply.
Critics, including two parliamentary committees, have slammed the health watchdog as poorly led – and questioned the decision to put dentists on the same footing as care homes.
The CQC now regulates more than 21,000 care providers, through registration, inspection and, where necessary, enforcement action.
The BDA, which strongly opposed the move to CQC regulation, said there was still a need to make regulation ‘proportionate and cost-effective’.
It pointed to a CQC report, published just before Christmas, which found dental practices to be ‘performing strongly against the criteria against which they were assessed’.
Dr Martin Fallowfield, chairman of the BDA’s principal executive committee, said: ‘That endorsement is welcome and underlines dental practices’ commitment to high standards in the provision of patient care.
‘Continued high compliance by dental practices would, the BDA believes, support a more risk-based approach to CQC inspections, in line with those principles being adopted.
‘The BDA also continues to argue that the financial burden of CQC regulation should not fall on practices.’
Earlier this month, David Cameron insisted the watchdog now had the necessary resources – but admitted its workload was ‘challenging’.
Speaking during a Commons statement on the scandal at Mid Staffordshire Hospital, the prime minister told MPs: ‘The CQC has the resources it needs.
‘It is a new organisation and has faced many challenges. A big reform of it is under way.
‘Being asked to scrutinise everything from the dentist’s waiting room to the largest hospital in the land is challenging, and we need to work on the organisation and make sure that it can deliver what we need.’
The figures – released in answer to a question tabled by a Conservative backbench MP – also reveal which other health bodies are inspected.
In 2012-13, by far the largest number were in adult social care (21,895), followed by independent healthcare (1,432), NHS Healthcare (863) and independent ambulance (102).
By Rob Merrick, parliamentary correspondent