A reshuffle of NHS dentistry in Wales will see patients switch to annual check-ups in a bid to reduce the coronavirus backlog and make it easier to see a dentist.
The country’s new chief dental officer, Andrew Dickenson, said abandoning the “outdated” practice of calling people back for check-ups every six months would help free up appointments and allow practices across the country of Wales to see up to 112,000 new patients a year.
Prof Dickenson said a big improvement in adult oral health over the past two decades has led to fewer tooth decay and fewer people wearing dentures and means six-monthly check-ups are now ‘unnecessary ” for many.
“What we’ve noticed is that the condition of people’s mouths has improved dramatically over the last 20 to 30 years, to the point that they no longer need a routine six-monthly check-up. “, he told the PA news agency.
“So we looked at changing dentists’ contracts to make sure they see patients on an as-needed basis.
“Dentists will create a personal care plan with people and let them know how often they need to come.
“For those who do not need treatment, they will be placed on an extended recall interval to be seen every 12 months.
“We believe this will give the dentist more flexibility to see patients who actually need their care, and it will improve access for patients who are currently reporting that they find it very difficult to see a dentist.”
Children and young people under the age of 18 will continue to be offered checks every six months, he said.
More than two-thirds (78%) of all NHS dental practices voluntarily signed up for the changes and therefore received a small target of ‘new patients’ to see.
They will be required to open slots for new patients, which are defined as people who are not yet registered with a dentist, and those who are registered but have not been seen by their dentist for more than four years.
Professor Dickenson said the focus would be on tackling gum disease, which is still prevalent in adults in mid to late life.
And on training more dentists and dental staff in Wales to tackle an ongoing recruitment crisis.
He said he wanted to attract more dentists to work in Wales – particularly in rural areas – and better use of dental hygienists and therapists.
There are around 1,400 dentists and 2,800 hygienists and therapists in Wales, with the country’s only dental school in Cardiff.
“I am confident that we will start to see a change in the number of patients reporting difficulty accessing a dentist, but that is not going to happen quickly. Full implementation could take a few years,” Prof Dickenson said.
Due to the difficulties created by the pandemic, he said it could take between three and five years before the benefits of the new system are felt and anyone applying for an NHS dental position can get one.
Anyone having difficulty signing up for a practice should contact their local health board who should help you find a dentist in your area, the Welsh Government recommends.
The voluntary changes were introduced by the Welsh Government by amending the current Dental Activity Units (UDA) contract system which has been used in England and Wales since 2006 and was deemed ‘unsuitable’ by the Health Select British Government Committee.
Further changes may be seen in the next fiscal year following further consultation with dentists, with the aim of ensuring that the new contract becomes law.
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