Everyone who wants treatment from a National Health Service dentist will be guaranteed access to one by September 2001 under an ambitious plan to rebuild one of the most neglected areas of the NHS.

Everyone who wants treatment from a National Health Service dentist will be guaranteed access to one by September 2001 under an ambitious plan to rebuild one of the most neglected areas of the NHS.

The £100m plan, to be launched today by a health minister, Lord Hunt of King's Heath, aims to reverse the haemorrhage of dentists to the private sector, which left millions of patients denied NHS care.

The objective may be helped by a proposed change to the officially recommended six-monthly check-up, lengthening the interval to once a year or longer. Ministers are to ask dentists' leaders to consider the change, in light of the improving state of the nation's teeth.

Since introduction of fluoride toothpaste in the early Seventies, the number of children aged 12 to 15 with fillings or missing teeth fell by 75 per cent.

The collapse of NHS dentistry is one of the biggest scandals of the NHS. Since 1992, the number of adults registered with an NHS dentist has fallen by a fifth, from 24.4 million to 19.7 million, as dentists have opted to treat patients privately for higher fees.

British Dental Association surveys show that until the early Nineties, dentists earned from 5 to 8 per cent of their income from private work but that had risen to 25 per cent by 1998. Today's plan includes new powers for health authorities to establish NHS dental services and incentive payments worth up to £4,500 a year for dentists to encourage extra NHS work.

At last year's Labour Party conference the Prime Minister pledged that everyone would be given the chance to "go back on the NHS to see their dentist".

Current charges are £4.92 for a check-up, £13.56 for a large filling and from £73.50 for a crown. They are set at a level to cover 80 per cent of the NHS cost up to a maximum of £354 for a course of treatment.Typical private charges are £15 for a check-up, £25 to £75 for a filling and up to £300 for a crown.

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