Painful truths: Why have dentists been left out of the healthcare debate?


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Like the house sparrow and the traditional milkman, NHS dentistry has disappeared so stealthily we hardly noticed. The latest survey by Which? certainly suggests that it has something to do with the dentists themselves and their reluctance sometimes to open their own mouths wide and inform patients about all the options available to them.

The general impression is one of confusion and inconsistent advice. The gradual quiet run-down of the NHS’s dental provision is part of this; after all in 1948, when the NHS was founded, it was much simpler; everyone could get their teeth done free of charge, and dentures cost nothing. It led to an immediate leap in the number of bright, evenly spaced, happy smiles; today our teeth are probably in their worst shape in decades.

It is time, then, for the dentists and the Department of Health to agree a plain guide to costs for all those seeking treatment. It is time, too, to ask aloud why it is that dentistry gradually became the part of healthcare we collectively forgot about, and an arm of the NHS that really has been privatised. Whether in taxes or fair private fees, dentistry needs proper funding. If we want to fix our national toothache, it will hurt a bit financially.