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NHS dentistry: Million new mums missing out on free care

We are calling on government to urgently move on pledges to reform NHS dentistry.

Our analysis of official data shows nearly one million new mums have missed out on free dental care, due to the pandemic.

In the five years prior to the pandemic, an average of over 840,000 maternity claims were made per year. This crashed to 245,967 in 2020/21 and to 490,298 in 2021/22, leaving an estimated 944,039 maternity appointments lost since lockdown.

We have highlighted in the media that hormonal changes during pregnancy can make gums more vulnerable to plaque and changes to dietary habits, and morning sickness can impact on oral health. Research also suggests that fever or infections from dental problems can also cause serious adverse effects for both mother and child.

We've also stressed that free access to NHS dentistry during pregnancy can prompt irregular attenders to make their first appointment in some years, enabling delivery of preventive advice of benefit to both mother and child.

The government has saved an estimated £46m by being unable to provide these free appointments.

Our recent research with the BBC showed that 91% of practices in England are unable to take on new adult patients on the NHS and 79% were unable to take on new child patients.

"Pregnant women and new mums are offered free dental care because the risks are plain and the benefits clear" says our Chief Scientific Advisor Prof Justin Durham.

"Sadly, during the pandemic close to a million women have missed out on taking advantage of free dental care. This impacts on both the mother and child, and the most vulnerable in society are likely to lose the most. We need to see real urgency on reform of NHS dentistry so there is better access for all. Any money saved should be re-invested in tried and tested programmes to improve both maternal and child oral health."

We continue to push for urgent reform of the dental contract to ensure new mothers and their children have ongoing access to dental care.