Society welcomes dental recovery plan but flags absence of contract reform

09 February 2024

In response to the government’s dental recovery plan announcement, the British Society of Paediatric Dentistry (BSPD) has welcomed the inclusion of measures to improve children’s oral health.

The promise of funding and the implementation of measurable outcomes is pivotal to ensuring that, at last, the beleaguered NHS dental health services get the support needed to address the crisis in oral health in the UK. However, the society has noted that there is an absence of a dental contract reform proposal to enable this.

Claire Stevens, BSPD spokesperson, said, “This long-awaited plan includes some measures to tackle the crisis in children’s oral health. However, we cannot see a plan to review and revise the dental contract, which is central to kick-starting the UK's dental recovery. Is this the ‘elephant-in-the-room’? For too long, we have had podium announcements, which sound good but are actually unworkable on the ground. We have been calling for clinically informed policies with measurable outputs. The current dental contract is not fit for purpose, and reform is long overdue.

“We need to ensure the funding is put to good use and supports the dental health workforce with a contract that works.  In the run-up to an election, we want to feel confident that these initiatives won’t just be shelved once the focus is off getting votes.”

The plan includes proposals to support water fluoridation, which the BSPD has long supported as a proven intervention to improve oral health. Other initiatives, such as the creation of mobile dental units, are mentioned. However, the BSPD has some concerns regarding the value of mobile vans, which include questions about a clear plan as to who will staff them. Secondly, the BSPD requests that there will be a reassurance that the vans will not just be for check-ups and fluoride varnish treatments when the focus should be on targeting the most vulnerable children and rendering them dentally fit.

Claire said, “Our starting point, if we could advise the government, would be to show them our 10-step blueprint for dental recovery, which we sent to the secretary of health in November  2023. We would want, as a minimum, the government to commit to funding supervised toothbrushing schemes for the 20 per cent of most deprived children in England.  This would be taking on board the valuable work done as part of the CORE20PLUS5 CYP initiative – which recognises that to make health care equitable, not just equal. Some children will need more support to ensure that every child has the best start in life.”

On water fluoridation, Claire said, “BSPD supports the fluoridation of public water supplies in communities where the burden of dental decay is severe enough to warrant this public health measure and fluoridation is technically feasible. We look forward to seeing the details regarding the Government’s fluoridation plans.”

Claire concluded, “A preventively focused dental services plan with funding and measurable outcomes is what we need.  We look forward to seeing more details as the plans unfold and remain willing to work with all parties who commit to improving children’s oral health.”