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Preet Gill: 'Children should be chasing their dreams, not dentist appointments, 21st January 2024

Under the Conservatives, NHS dentistry is dying a slow death.

Labour analysis shows that 8/10 dentists aren’t accepting new adult patients, and 7/10 are shutting their doors to new child patients. In some areas, 99% of practices are taking on no new NHS patients.

The collapse of NHS dentistry has left millions unable to get an appointment when they need one, with appalling consequences for patients. Sarah Champion, MP for Rotherham, told the house during last week’s dentistry debate that one of her constituents wrote to her after trying and failing to get a dentist’s appointment for a year. After more than a year spent on painkillers and soup, her constituent went private and was told:

“Your teeth are in a very poor condition with most of your remaining teeth decayed and unsavable. All your teeth except two… need extracting.”

Stories like this have become quite common in this country. According to YouGov polling, 1 in 10 adults have attempted some form of DIY dentistry.

This Dickensian picture of Britain, where people are resigned to pulling their own teeth out with plyers, is reinforced by the grim state of child dental health. Today, the UK has some of the worst child health outcomes in Europe.

Rotting teeth is the number one reason children aged 6 to 10 are admitted to hospital, with on average 169 children undergoing extractions every single day. Tens of thousands of children are left in pain for months, if not years, waiting for procedures, often making it harder for them to eat, sleep and learn at school.

Every child deserves a healthy start in life. Yet after 14 years of Tory government, not every child gets that chance. In Brighton, one of Lloyd Russell-Moyle MP’s constituents has contacted over 30 dental practices. Not a single practice is accepting her and her one-year-old child, who desperately needs dental treatment. Recently I was contacted by a constituent whose daughter was told she would have to wait four years for an appointment to get braces. She is 13 now and will be 18 by the time she is seen.

Unlike the Tories, whose dental recovery plan was promised last April and is nowhere to be seen, Labour has a fully-costed plan to keep kids’ teeth clean and keep them out of hospital. As part of our plan to rescue NHS dentistry, we will introduce supervised toothbrushing in schools for 3–5-year-olds, targeted at the areas with highest childhood tooth decay.

Our supervised toothbrushing scheme will cost £9 million per year, which is dwarfed by the estimated £51 million that it costs for child tooth extractions in hospital – that’s better value for money. Unlike the Conservatives, Labour understands that prevention is better than cure, for both the patient and the taxpayer.

In government, Labour will take immediate action to provide care for those in most urgent need of NHS dental services. Our plan will provide 700,000 more urgent appointments each year and incentives for new NHS dentists to work in areas with the greatest need. This will all be paid for by abolishing the non-dom tax status, because our constituents need dentist’s appointments more than the wealthy need tax breaks.

We will also reform the dental contract to rebuild the service in the long run, so NHS dentistry is there for everyone who needs it.  As it stands, our NHS is tailored to providing late diagnosis, instead of early intervention, failing millions whose conditions are missed until it’s too late. With a relentless focus on prevention, Labour will reform our NHS and rescue NHS dentistry, so people can live healthier and happier lives.

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