Labour pledges 700,000 extra appointments and supervised toothbrushing to 'rescue dentistry'

By John Mercury October 5, 2023

The Labour Party has pledged to bring in supervised toothbrushing at schools as well as an extra 700,00 dentist appointments if it wins the next election.

In its first policy announcement ahead of its annual conference in Liverpool, the party also promised to prioritise patients in need of serious treatment, such as fillings and root canal work.

It comes amid reports that people in the UK have had to resort to pulling out their own teeth because they can’t access or afford an NHS dentist.

A programme to help prevent tooth decay for three to five-year-olds will also be launched, the party said.

Overall it has set aside £111m a year to solve what it called the “crisis” in dentistry, which it said would be funded through scrapping the controversial non-dom tax status.

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Sir Keir Starmer said a Labour government would “do more than fix the basics” by also overhauling the NHS dental contract to change how the service worked in the long-term.

“People are finding it impossible to get an NHS dentist when they need one, with appalling consequences. Horror stories of DIY dentistry are too frequent,” he said.

“My Labour government will not stand for millions of people being denied basic healthcare. To rescue dentistry from the immediate crisis, we will provide 700,000 more appointments a year to those in the most urgent need, recruit more dentists to areas with the most severe shortages, and protect children’s teeth.”

Labour’s announcement comes after the Health and Social Care committee published a damning report in July which found that extractions have been performed with pliers in some cases, while others have been forced to make a five-hour round trip to see a professional.

The committee said “urgent and fundamental reform” is needed to stop cases of pain and distress that is “totally unacceptable in the 21st century”.

Separate figures published in April showed that only 44% of children saw a dentist in the past year in England, while there are as many as 3,000 people per NHS dentist in some areas.

Experts have also called for urgent change to NHS dentistry after figures revealed the number of patients being seen remained well below pre-pandemic levels.

Data published by NHS Digital revealed 18.1 million adults in England were seen by an NHS dentist in the 24 months leading up to June 2023 compared with 21.9 million in June 2019.

The government has launched a consultation on how delays could be improved, including a proposal to grant dental hygienists the power to administer certain medicines without the need for a prescription.

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However, the detail in its dental recovery plan, which aims to improve access and increase the number of NHS dentists, has not yet been set out in full.

Professor Claire Stevens, spokeswoman for the British Society of Paediatric Dentistry, said Labour’s proposals were a “serious plan to both grip the immediate crisis and set NHS dentistry on the path to recovery in the long-term”.

Chris Groombridge, chairman of the charity Teeth Team, said: “As a charity dedicated to providing dental education in schools, we all too often see tooth decay which is largely preventable. We therefore welcome Labour’s commitment to a toothbrushing programme for three to five-year-olds to help them form healthy habits and protect kids’ teeth.”

The Department for Health and Social Care has been contacted for comment.


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