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MPs seek restoration of free dental care

FREE dental checks and routine care must be restored to all NHS patients to sustain post-war improvements in oral health, a Tory-dominated Commons committee said yesterday, writes Judy Jones.

All those registered with a dentist, and who attend regularly for checks, would not have to pay for either emergency or routine maintenance treatment under proposals outlined by the health select committee.

Non-exempt adults would pay the full cost, however, of advanced treatment such as crowns and bridges. This category of patient pays 80 per cent of the full cost, up to a maximum of pounds 250.

The extra cost of extending current levels of free provision for basic care could be funded partly by abolition of the 80 per cent ceiling on charges. However, the current maximum of pounds 250 should be kept for advanced treatment, the MPs say.

The select committee's report sends a signal to ministers that NHS dentistry - a potential target of the Treasury's review of public spending - must not only be protected but enhanced.

Its inquiry was launched last year after many dentists refused to take on new adult patients for NHS work in protest at the 7 per cent dentists' fee cut imposed by the Government last spring. The British Dental Association (BDA) accused the Government of allowing NHS dentistry to 'wither on the vine'.

Virginia Bottomley, Secretary of State for Health, described the report as a valuable contribution. It was welcomed by the BDA, but a spokesman said: 'If the Government accepts the principles of the select committee report, it must also accept the need for extra funding.'