Dentists pulling out more teeth instead of fixing them

Dentists are increasingly pulling patients’ teeth out because they lose money if they carry out more complex operations to fix them, official figures show.

In the two years since dentists were given a new contract, 1.1m fewer people were treated on the health service than in the two previous years. Those patients were more likely to have a tooth removed and a denture fitted than under the old contract as dentists opt for easier treatments to help cover costs.

The contract has been heavily criticised for failing to deliver promised improvements in dental care.

In 1999 Tony Blair pledged that everyone would have access to NHS dentistry within two years.

Figures out show that around half of the people in England saw an NHS dentist in the last two years. It means there has been a 3.9 per cent drop in the number of people treated in the first two years of the new system compared to the last two years of the old contract.

The data from the NHS Information Centre shows a rise in the number of treatments involving tooth extractions and dentures and a fall in the more complex crowns and fillings.

Dentists have consistently warned that the payment methods did not cover the costs of carrying out complex treatments and it would mean the incentive would be to pull the tooth out rather than attempt to fix it.

An analysis revealed that in England the proportion of treatments involving dentures increased from 38 per cent to 48 per cent and tooth extractions increased from seven per cent to eight per cent of treatments carried out in 2007/8.

In Wales the proportion of treatments where a tooth was pulled out increased from almost eight per cent to over nine per cent although there was no significant change in dentures.

Meanwhile treatments including crowns dropped from 48 per cent to 35 per cent in England and in Wales dropped from 44 per cent to 35 per cent.

Fillings also reduced from 28 per cent of treatments to 26 per cent.

Other findings show the number of dentists carrying out NHS work has increased by 3.2 per cent , an extra 655 dentists, compared to 2006/7.

Patients also paid more towards their NHS treatment with an increase of £56m or almost 12 per cent in revenue from patient charges.

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Health Direct asks what is the difference between being made to pay for NHS dentistry services and being made to pay for cancer drugs?

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