The Department of Health (DH) will push an order through Parliament before the May general election to give the General Dental Council (GDC) the power to impose checks.
Currently, the GDC can act only if dentists from outside the European Economic Area (EEA) – the EU, plus Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein – who wish to work in Britain cannot speak English.
Now the switch will allow the regulator to take steps before a licence to practise is issued, after rising concern about serious failures in checks on the language skills of EU doctors.
Last year, the DH issued a consultation document announcing plans to amend the 1984 Dentists Act, in order to give the GDC the proper teeth.
The attempted crackdown was delayed when the DH ran into the problem of EU rules requiring the equal treatment of European and UK applicants.
Therefore, all would-be dentists – including those trained in the UK – will now be required to show they ‘have the necessary knowledge of English’.
Announcing the decision to press ahead, health minister, Dan Poulter, said: ‘We greatly value the contributions that healthcare professionals from all over the world have made, and continue to make, to our NHS.
‘But it is essential that they have a sufficient knowledge of the English language in order to provide safe patient care.
‘The proposed legislative changes to strengthen language testing of healthcare professionals will be an effective way of ensuring the language competence of all overseas nurses, midwives, dentists, dental care professionals, pharmacists and pharmacy technicians.
‘This change in the law will mark an important milestone in improving patient safety and care.’
The minister said a Health Care and Associated Professions (Knowledge of English) Order 2015 would be ‘laid in Parliament shortly’.
Previously, Dr Poulter has sought to calm fears of extra red tape by arguing that the GDC will be able to rely on information already provided by graduates of UK universities about their English skills.
The shake-up will also introduce a new power for the GDC to ‘take fitness to practise action’ where there are serious complaints that a registered dentist lacks the English necessary to provide safe care.
And it will allow the regulator to ‘charge a fee in relation to the examination of applications’, on top of existing registration fees.
The changes come seven years after the case of a German locum, Daniel Ubani, who killed a man on his first shift in Britain by injecting him with 10 times the recommended dose of diamorphine.