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Questions answered on the future of dentistry

This week MPs and Peers quizzed Health Minister Jo Churchill MP, CDO Sara Hurley and NHS England's Director for Primary Care Strategy Ed Waller on plans to restore dental services in the wake of the COVID pandemic.

The virtual event, held by the All Party Parliamentary Group on Dentistry and Oral Health, to which the BDA acts as secretariat, was joined by voices from across the political spectrum.

We are working to build cross-party consensus on the need for change. And this event once again underlined that a growing number of parliamentarians are clear on the scale of the challenge ahead, and the need for decisive action from Government.

A message of thanks and contrition

The Health Minister acknowledged the huge challenges facing the service, while paying tribute to dental teams for their resilience over the last 15 months as she stated: “Dentistry is one of the top priorities for every constituency MP I talk to”.

Churchill also took the opportunity to apologise for her response to a recent written question on oral cancer, which described dentists as playing an “ad hoc role”. “It was not the response I had cleared” she told the meeting. “Lessons have been learnt and I have made sure the process is in place to ensure it does not happen again. I fully recognise the role dentists play in picking up and referring patients for oral cancer and can speak from personal experience.”

This was an important statement from the Minister, and one that we welcome unequivocally.

The CDO likewise paid tribute to the role dentists had played in Urgent Dental Centres, and noted that we are very far from a return to 'business as usual'.

Following our calls for a roadmap it was stressed that officials are now looking on emerging evidence on airborne transmission, and how this might underpin a relaxation of current restrictions.

Building back better?

NHS England's Ed Waller accepted the need to move away from UDAs, and outlined a new advisory group – of which we form part – is exploring new ways to deliver dentistry.

We have been clear this service was in crisis long before COVID struck, and speakers were keen to highlight the human cost of the access crisis and to seek clarity on what the next steps might look like.

Exeter MP Ben Bradshaw spoke for many when he outlined the huge challenges facing his constituents, seeking both an apology and a clear plan of action.

Baroness Gardner asked a key question on what the Government intends to do to help on ventilation, to help cut fallow time.

The Minister concluded "this is not easy", perhaps failing to note that England is now alone among UK nations in failing to support practices via capital investment.

Action on prevention

The Minister rightly noted that deprivation and oral health are inextricably linked as she outlined Government plans to streamline the process for water fluoridation.

We support the move and we need to see it is backed up by concrete investment, especially given the huge returns - £35 for every £1 spent – the scheme can generate as a result of lower levels of treatment need.

Plymouth MP Luke Pollard reflected extractions among young children.

Fluoridation would be an important part of solving this problem. As would taking forward pledges on supervised brushing.

Oral health inequality is now set to widen, and inaction here will come with a huge price tag.

Having organised this successful meeting with the Minister on behalf of the APPG, the BDA continues to work with politicians and policymakers to raise the issues facing our members, to ensure your voice is always heard loud and clear by decision-makers.