The Argus has reported that Sussex is facing a ‘ticking dental time bomb’ as figures released last week show a significant drop in the number of people visiting NHS dental surgeries.

The figures, released as part of a report published by the NHS Information centre, reveal that in Sussex alone 36,000 people have stopped visiting their dentist within the past two years.

The drop is attributed to confusion surrounding the controversial contract system introduced in April 2006, which rewrote the terms of payment so that dentists were paid an annual income rather than being paid per appointment. Although its intention was to allow better access to dental care, approval of the contract system led to many dentists leaving the NHS to work privately; resulting in the perception that few NHS dental appointments were now available.

Councillor Sven Rufus, who sits on Brighton and Hove City Council’s health overview and scrutiny committee, told The Argus: “This is extremely worrying. These were changes designed to make it easier for people to get dental treatment and that has not happened. It is a failed policy.

“My real concern is that people in deprived areas would be worst affected. This is a ticking dental time bomb – the future repercussions of people not getting routine access to NHS dentists are huge.”

The trend is not specific to Sussex however, with the report showing that, since April 2006, 26.9 million patients were seen by an NHS dentist, an equivalent to 52.7 per cent of the population. This is a decrease of 1.2 million (4.3 per cent) on the 28.1 million patients seen in the 24 month period ending 31 March 2006, equivalent to 55.8 per cent of the population at that time.

Reacting to the figures, British Dental Association Chief Executive Peter Ward said: ‘These figures provide yet more evidence of the problems created by the Government’s 2006 dental reforms. More than 1.2 million fewer people in England are able to access an NHS dentist now than was the case before the reforms were implemented.”

‘That means that, according to the government’s own figures, there are more than three million people in England alone who want access to NHS dentistry but can’t get it.

Patients who are able to access care are confronted with a system driven by targets that discourages modern, preventive care. That is difficult for dentists, who want to focus on providing the best possible care for their patients.” Half of those students in part-time work deemed it a necessary source of income, without which their basic living costs would have exceeded their loan.

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