PATIENTS will only get to see their dentist once a year under radical new plans set out by the Welsh Government in a bid to tackle waiting lists.

Wales’ new Chief Dental Officer Andrew Dickenson has set out changes, which he says make it easier for people to see an NHS dentist and for dentists to focus on those who need help.

Changes to NHS dental contracts and to the ‘outdated’ practice of recalling people for check-ups every six-months will help free up dentists’ time and enable practices to take on up to 112,000 new NHS patients a year.

Over the last two decades there has been a steady decrease in tooth decay; more adults are keeping their teeth and there has been a steady fall in the number of people wearing dentures.

Professor Dickenson said: “People are now much better at maintaining their personal oral health. Together with the excellent service provided by our dentists, which reflects the benefits of brushing twice a day, the widespread use of fluoride toothpaste and avoiding sugary snacks and drinks between meals.

“Most adults do not need to see their dentist every six months anymore. By moving away from often unnecessary check-ups, dentists will have more time to provide people with the personal, tailored care they need and free up space to take on new NHS patients.”

Rather than six-monthly check-ups, dentists will create a personal care plan with people and advise them how often they need to come in.

This will allow those people who need more frequent care to be seen more regularly than the new once-a-year recall. Children and young people under-18 will continue to have six-monthly check-ups.

More than three-quarters (78%) of NHS dental practices have signed up to a variation of the Welsh Government’s dental contract, which means more practices are focusing on preventive care and treatment, rather than the treadmill of delivering activity targets required by the old system.

It is estimated these changes will create places for an extra 112,000 NHS patients across Wales.

The Welsh Government also wants to recruit more dentists and dental staff by offering support for students to find placements with practices in Wales and developing new working arrangements to attract more dentists to work here.

Professor Dickenson added: “By increasing the number of dentists and helping them to work differently with their patients, we can ensure that everyone in Wales who wants NHS dental care, can get access to it.”

Anyone who needs emergency dental care, i.e; is in severe pain, has a swollen face, or a temperature will be seen quickly and should contact 111 to be referred for treatment.

If you are having trouble registering for a NHS dental practice in your area contact your local health board who will help you find a practice. You may have to wait a little longer for routine dental care as dentists work through the backlog from the pandemic and implement new working practices.

Commenting on the move to annual check-ups, Welsh Conservative and Shadow Health Minister Russell George MS said: “I welcome the move towards annual check-ups at the dentist and I do think it will help with easing the backlog in NHS dentistry without seriously impacting on patients.

“However, this is the pragmatic solution to a problem exacerbated by the Labour Government itself from years of underfunding compared to other devolved nations and failing to prepare for demand that was always going to build up during the pandemic, the consequences of which are clear to see through the NHS.

“I have been saying for months that this attitude towards dentistry – in conjunction with the derided contracts Labour ministers are dishing out – will lead to dental deserts across Wales, leading to people forking out thousands to go private or having to rip out their own teeth.”