Petition Fund free dental care for all
Dental treatment is an essential aspect of healthcare that should be accessible to everyone, regardless of their financial status. Unfortunately, in England, dental treatment is not free for most people and this has led to a situation where many individuals are unable to access the care they need.
Thousands of people are suffering from dental problems that could have been prevented or treated if they had access to free dental care. A poll by YouGov of 1,723 adults in England found almost 23 per cent report delaying or going without NHS dental treatment due to the cost. Some 38 per cent of people polled said dentistry should be fully funded by the Government through general taxation, effectively free at the point of delivery.
Research has shown that poor oral health can lead to other serious health issues such as heart disease and diabetes. Free dental care could save the NHS money by reducing these issues and other dental issues.
This response was given on 9 November 2023
Dental patient charges provide an important contribution to NHS budgets. A number of patients are already exempt from patient charges and we have no current plans to extend these provisions.
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Our latest Dental Statistics Annual Report for England shows that 47.5% of courses of treatments were delivered free of charge to NHS dental patients in 2022-23.
There are a range of exemptions from NHS dental patient charges to support patients who are most likely to have difficulty with meeting the cost of dental care. This includes:
- under 18, or under 19 and in full-time education;
- pregnant or have had a baby in the previous 12 months;
- being treated in an NHS hospital and the treatment is carried out by the hospital dentist (patients may have to pay for any dentures or bridges).
Support is also available through the NHS Low Income Scheme for patients who are not eligible for exemption or full remission. Further information about support with NHS dental charges is available from the following link:
The NHS in England invests £3 billion in dentistry every year and we are working hard to improve access.
We have also ensured that the full NHS dental budget made available each year is spent on delivering NHS dental care. To that end, NHS England have provided guidance for Integrated Care Boards (ICBs) that requires dental funding to be ringfenced, with any unused resources re-directed to improve NHS dental access in the first instance. NHS England’s 2023-24 revenue finance and contracting guidance, which provides more detail, is available at the following link:
The latest Dental Statistics for England indicates signs of improvements in patients accessing NHS dental care. In the 24 months up to 30 June 2023, 18.1 million adults were seen by an NHS dentist, which is an increase of 10% from the previous year. In the same period, 6.4 million children were seen by an NHS dentist, an increase of 14% from the previous year.
We also acknowledge the importance of taking steps to prevent poor oral health. The Office for Health Improvement and Disparities (OHID) has published an evidence-based toolkit, “Delivering Better Oral Health - an evidence-based toolkit for prevention”, for dental teams and other healthcare professionals to support preventive advice and treatment for their patients, including the prevention of tooth decay in children. The toolkit is available at:
OHID have also published evidence-based toolkits for local service commissioners, including on commissioning daily supervised toothbrushing programmes in early years settings which some Local Authorities have in place. The Improving oral health: supervised tooth brushing programme toolkit can be accessed at:
Water fluoridation is a safe public health intervention to improve the oral health of both adults and children and helps to tackle inequalities. The Government intends to expand water fluoridation across the north-east of England, to reach an additional 1.6m people. This is subject to a statutory 12- week consultation intended to start before the end of 2023. Any further plans in other areas would also be subject to consultation as well as funding being identified.
We know that there are still remaining challenges facing access to NHS dentistry, and our Dentistry Recovery Plan will be published shortly to build upon our initial reforms of July 2022.
Department of Health and Social Care
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