Dentists are 'exploiting' the NHS by inviting healthy patients for needless check-ups to maximise their profits, the Government has said.
Chief dental officer Dr Barry Cockroft accused dentists of advising patients to return every six months when official guidance says check-ups are only required every two years.
He also said some were routinely splitting up treatment that could be given in one session, in order to receive the NHS appointment payment more times.
Dr Cockcroft said unnecessary check-ups were unfairly inflating dentists' salaries - already pushing £100,000 - and were clogging up waiting lists.
Officials have ordered a crackdown on the practice, which they say could free up 800,000 appointments a year and hundreds of thousands of pounds for the NHS.
Dentists' pay shot up after a new contract was introduced in 2006, but over the time since then the number of people seeing an NHS dentist has fallen by a million.
The average dentist's salary in 2006-07 was £96,135 - an 11 per cent increase on the last year of the old contract. Guidance from NICE, the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence, recommends patients have a check-up every two years, unless they are at risk of a life-threatening illness.
A Department of Health spokesman said: 'It is a contractual requirement for dentists to apply the NICE guidance.
'However, it is clear from new data available to primary care trusts that many patients are being seen every six months or so, effectively preventing new patients from getting access to NHS dentistry.
'PCTs now have contract based data to enable them to address this.' Some invitations to check-ups have come in the form of ' threatening' letters, warning that failure to attend could cost a patient their NHS place.
Dr Anthony Halperin, a dentist and a trustee of the Patients' Association, said: 'There is no doubt that some dentists are abusing the system. It is entirely inappropriate to see healthy patients so often.'
But Peter Ward, chief executive of the British Dental Association, said there was no evidence to back up the Government claims.
'The interval between patients being recalled by their NHS dentist is, according to NICE guidelines, a matter for the practitioner's clinical judgment in consultation with the patient,' he said.
'The BDA supports this guideline, as we do not believe a one-size-fits-all approach is clinically appropriate.
'Dentists develop treatment plans in conjunction with the patient, ensuring they are clinically appropriate and fit with the individual's wishes.'
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