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1 ¼ Million new mums miss out on free access to NHS dentistry

As MPs debate the prospect of extending free NHS dentistry to cancer patients the British Dental Association has renewed its call for reform of NHS dentistry, with analysis of official data revealing one and a quarter million new mums have missed out on free dental care due to the pandemic.

Patients are entitled to free NHS dental care if they are pregnant when they start treatment, and for 12 months after the baby is born, but uptake for both groups has crashed during the pandemic.

In the 5 years prior to the pandemic, an average of over 840,000 maternity claims were made per year. This crashed to 245,967 in 2020/21, to 490,298 in 2021/22, and to just 542,353 by 2022/23, leaving an estimated 1,241,838 maternity appointments lost since lockdown.

Hormonal changes during pregnancy can make gums more vulnerable to plaque, leading to inflammation and bleeding. Changes to dietary habits and morning sickness can also damage teeth. Research also suggests that fever or infections from dental problems can also cause serious adverse effects for both mother and child.

The BDA believes charges are the wrong way to fund NHS dentistry, and says many groups have a strong case for exemption. However, it stresses this data shows the reality is there really isn’t enough NHS dentistry to go round.

The recent ‘Recovery Plan’ for NHS dentistry was dubbed ‘unworthy of the title’ by the BDA. A recent poll of dentists in England by the BDA showed just 3% think the plan will result in their practice seeing more NHS patients. 43% believe the plan will actually lead to their practice seeing fewer NHS patients. Only 1% of respondents believe the plan is capable of meeting the government’s stated objective to provide NHS dental care to ‘all who need it’

The Secretary of State has had to correct the official record after informing parliament the plan was funded by £200m in ‘new’ money. It is entirely funded by recycling underspends in the service’s £3bn budget, which has barely increased in a decade. The Government has tried claiming that 500 practices are now taking on new patients as a result of this package. The reality is officials have just changed the definition of ‘access’. Previously practices would answer yes or no on whether they were taking new patients. NHS practices are now showing that they can take new patients ‘when availability allows’.

BDA Chair Eddie Crouch said:

“Many patients have a strong claim for free NHS dentistry, but sadly those who already have it are seeing few benefits.

“Pregnant women and new mums are eligible because of the material risk to their teeth and gums. But 1.25 million have missed out, and there’s little sign of recovery.

“Government needs to park the spin, and deliver a serious plan to restore access to millions.”

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