Observations Body Politic

NHS dentistry: a service with teeth

BMJ 2008; 337 doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/bmj.a2043 (Published 21 October 2008) Cite this as: BMJ 2008;337:a2043
  1. Nigel Hawkes, freelance journalist and consultant
  1. nigel.hawkes1{at}btinternet.com

    It’s fashionable to decry public dentistry, but is it fair?

    Most people, if asked to name the least effective sector of the NHS, would settle without hesitation on dentistry. It has become a truism that NHS dentistry is beyond saving, as the middle classes desert it in droves. Ministers don’t talk about it, unless coerced; it is the service that dare not speak its name.

    Yet a contrarian view ought sometimes to be heard. Take, for example, the oft quoted statistic that the market for private dentistry has now overtaken that of the NHS. In simple cash terms that may be true. But a quarter of total spending in dentistry is cosmetic, which the NHS does not provide. Another quarter is on routine private dentistry, while the remaining half is spent on NHS dentistry. Given that private charges are much higher than those in the NHS, the half that is spent in the NHS buys far more treatments. In fact, 75-80% of dental treatments are still in the NHS, which has 27 million patients, against 6.7 million in the private sector.

    This suggests …

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