NHS dentists in England are extracting more teeth and providing patients with fewer x-rays, fillings and crowns, official figures revealed yesterday.
The NHS Information Centre said treatments involving the fitting or repairing of false teeth accounted for 38% of complex dental activity in 2003-04. This rose to 48% in 2007-08. At the same time, extractions increased from 7% to 8% of dentists' workload, but the proportion of time spent on preparing and fitting crowns fell from 48% to 35% and fillings from 28% to 26%.
Dr Barry Cockcroft, the chief dental officer, rejected a suggestion that the contract given to NHS dentists in April 2006 discouraged time-consuming interventions to save natural teeth. He said: "The oral health of the nation has improved dramatically over the last 10 years thanks to fluoride toothpaste, fluoridated water and greater awareness of the importance of oral hygiene." The increase in dentures was caused by a growth in the number of older people and a switch towards providing partial dentures instead of a full set.
The information centre said 27 million people - 53.3% of the population - were seen by an NHS dentist in the two years following the introduction of the contract. That was 1.1 million down on the number seen in the previous two years.
Mike Penning, a Conservative health spokesman, said: "Since Labour introduced its botched, untested new contract, well over one million people - more than the entire population of Birmingham - have lost access to an NHS dentist."
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