Labour proposes free dental checkups
The Labour party has promised that everyone will be entitled to free dental check-ups in England should it succeed in winning December’s general election.
Its exact target is to abolish band one dentistry charges, which cover a standard checkup, a scale and polish and any X-rays.
Treatments such as fillings, root canal treatment and extractions will still be chargeable since they are in a higher treatment band. Some individuals including those on low income, pregnant women, under-18s and those in full-time education are exempt from charges.
Shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth says that existing charges are putting people off going to the dentist and that they end up needing more urgent care later on as a result.
Ashworth said: "With 135,000 patients presenting at A&E with dental problems every year, it's time we put prevention at the heart of our approach to health.”
Party leader Jeremy Corbyn told the BBC: "This is the first step towards making all dentistry services free of charge.
"If we don't have a dental check and then somewhere down the line we have a catastrophe, a disaster, massive pain, we have to go to A&E and that is then very expensive.”
Corbyn added that free dental checkups will “save money in the long-run” and that the policy, which the party estimates will cost £450 million a year, will be “an investment for the future”.
With health being a devolved concern, the new policy would only apply to England.
Currently, almost half of all treatments delivered in England annually are free, but the existing system determining who is exempt from paying for treatment has come under fire from industry experts for its complexities.
Chairman of the British Dental Association, Mick Armstrong, said that the system should be simplified to encourage more people to go for checkups, but warned that a shortage of qualified dentists must be addressed to accommodate increased access to services.
BDA figures indicate that three quarters of NHS dental surgeries have vacancies that they struggle to fill due to a lack of skilled workers.
Armstrong said: "Any plans to boost access must go hand-in-hand with support for a service facing serious recruitment problems. NHS dentistry cannot be delivered without NHS dentists."
The NHS' own figures show that roughly 50 per cent of adults have not used an NHS dentist in the past two years. However, it must be noted that many individuals may feel that they do not require a dental checkup, while others choose to pay for private dental services.
No reliable data has yet been published on the real number of people who are not receiving dental care when it is needed.