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How Scotland's political parties aim to improve dentistry

The next Scottish Government must take action to bridge oral health inequality and support dentistry.

This is the case we made in our manifesto, published ahead of the election on 6 May 2021. We argue that in order to tackle Scotland's unprecedented oral health challenges the next government must:

  • Address the backlog of unmet dental care need
  • Promote prevention to help tackle oral health inequalities
  • Ensure NHS dentistry remains sustainable
  • Improve access for vulnerable groups
  • Integrate oral health with wider public health priorities.

We had met with representatives and spokespeople from political parties to discuss our plan of action and urge them to include oral health and dentistry in their own manifestos. We took part in election hustings, asking questions on dental issues. We sent a copy of our document to every politician running in the election, with candidates from all major parties coming back to us to pledge to work to bridge the gap on oral health in Scotland.

Our efforts have borne fruit. Pledges relating to oral health and access to dental services feature in political party manifestos in a way that is unprecedented. Here is a summary of what each party is calling for in relation to dentistry:

1. SNP

The SNP points out that there is one area of NHS services that can lead to a charge for care – NHS dentistry.

While acknowledging the great strides in improving dentistry access, if re-elected the SNP promise to improve access further. They hope to do so by abolishing all NHS dentistry charges over the course of the parliament, starting the roll out with care experienced people aged between 18 and 26.

The SNP have further promised that in removing NHS dental charges, they would engage with the BDA, and learn from the experience of the pandemic to help shape a reformed funding arrangement for NHS dentists so that we are supported for the future.

We indicated we are ready to work with next Scottish Government to rebuild services, and Robert Donald responded to the SNP proposal in his blog last week.

2. Scottish Conservatives

The Scottish Conservatives manifesto includes various measures relating to health inequalities, healthier diets, action on smoking and prioritising primary care.

They argue that immediate action to support staff retention is required and they would work to agree a new multi-year pay deal for Agenda for Change staff as well as doctors and dentists. They would invest an additional £40m in staff wellbeing this year, including rest facilities and mental health services, and fully establish a Scottish Workforce Specialist Service to provide ongoing mental health support to NHS and social care staff.

3. Scottish Labour

Scottish Labour manifesto proposes a comprehensive overhaul of NHS dental services. It supports greater integration with the NHS with options other than the small business model, including strengthening NHS community dentistry to improve access in deprived areas.

​The document points out that the Childsmile programme was designed by Scottish Labour and supports BDA’s call for it to be restarted and expanded to maximise the impact on inequalities.

4. Scottish Greens

The Scottish Greens manifesto pledges to ensure equal access to dental services.

They promise to work with the profession to ensure the funding and workforce are available to address the backlog of cases that have been generated by the pandemic. They also pledge to preserve the Public Dental Service, which provides oral care to groups with complex needs, such as homeless people, care home residents and disabled children.

5. Scottish Liberal Democrats

The Scottish Liberal Democrats manifesto contains general commitments to “promote preventative health to take the pressure off the NHS” – but no specific mentions of dentistry or oral health.


The Alba Party set out in their manifesto that investment in prevention is essential to tackle the stark and persistent oral health inequalities that will widen as a result of the pandemic.

On NHS dentistry specifically, they say that its provision was a real success of the first two terms of the SNP government, but that during the pandemic, people were driven back to private services.

They consider availability of NHS dentistry a key issue, and argue that until that is tackled, making it free at the point of need would not practically solve the current and immediate lack of available NHS facilities.