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​Public paying the price for government failure on prevention

The British Dental Association (BDA) has backed warnings from the Local Government Association (LGA), as it revealed new figures showing a 66 per cent increase in the cost of extracting rotten teeth from children in hospitals in the last five years.

Hospital extractions, which require general anaesthesia, vastly exceed the costs of preventive treatment delivered through high street practices. The dentists’ group has said this increase is emblematic of the government’s wider failures on prevention.

The BDA recently led criticism of the government’s increases to NHS dental fees, which it warned would discourage patients on low incomes, together with its approach to the discredited NHS contract. A recent survey of NHS dentists revealed that 83 per cent felt the current contract system, based on rigid government targets, was holding them back from preventive work.

The 2006 dental contract is not fit for purpose. It rewards dentists for hitting government targets for treatment and repair, not for improving their patients’ oral health. It was meant to improve access to NHS dentistry and put prevention at the heart of the service, but it has failed on its own terms. It has deskilled and demoralised the profession, and received criticism from patient groups, government, the Health Select Committee and the Chief Dental Officers for England and Wales. It is time for a contract that can put prevention first.

Henrik Overgaard-Nielsen, Chair of the BDA’s General Dental Practice Committee said:

“Ministers keep forgetting that prevention isn’t just better than cure, it’s cheaper too. A cash strapped NHS is spending money it doesn’t have on surgical procedures for children with advanced decay, when it could spend a fraction of that sum keeping healthy teeth in healthy mouths.

“While successive governments have talked the talk on prevention they all have entrenched approaches to NHS fees, contracts and funding that actively undermine it. It is clear the public will keep on paying the price for that failure until we see some real leadership on oral health.

“The recent sugar levy is a decent starting point, but not a final destination. This is an entirely avoidable epidemic, and we require a strategy that ensures parents, politicians and health professionals are on the same page.”




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