News - August 11, 2023

Reports of ‘DIY dentistry’ have plagued the headlines in recent months. As everyone is aware, NHS dentistry, and the profession as a whole, has been under significant pressure for much time now. In recent years, some patients have been unable to get an appointment, whether for routine or urgent care.

The British Dental Association (BDA) has undertaken analysis of data published by the NHS. It indicates that:
• More than 6 million adults tried and failed to book adental appointment in the last 2 years
• Upwards of 1.1 million adults are deterred by the cost of treatment
• An estimated 600,000 people are on waiting lists

Delays could mean that some may need more complex treatment, rather than preventive care or advice.

How is the profession reacting?

The Health and Social Care Committee recently published a report, which:
• Urged the UK government to carry out fundamental reform to improve access to care.
• Recommended a “move away from the current system of Units of Dental Activity (UDAs)”. Instead, it favours “financial incentives for seeing new patients and those with greater dental need”.
• Advised risk-based recall periods of up to 24 months, rather than the standard 6 months.

The BDA has issued a response, backing the judgement of the Committee. The Association urges the government to urgently implement a recovery plan for NHS dentistry, minimising the impact on patients and dentists.

Many agree that change is needed to improve the current situation. But some are not convinced by the Committee’s recommendations.

Easing the strain on dentistry

The General Dental Council (GDC) has already increased the capacity for the Overseas Registration Exam (ORE) this year from 200 to 600 places. This is in response to the high demand in the UK. It aims to provide more opportunity for overseas dentists who wish to join the GDC register and practice in the UK to apply. Going forward, this aims to ease the strain on UK dentistry.

Could technology present a long-term solution?

The key question on many people’s lips is: could artificial intelligence (AI) improve efficiency, and increase treatment acceptance and success?

The short answer, based on what we know so far, is yes.

The benefits of AI for enhancing efficiency in practice are already undeniable. The technology is already used in some areas:
• Diagnosis and treatment planning
• Analysing patients’ records
• Image analysis – identifying abnormalities quickly

It’s important to remember that this is still new technology, and isn’t always the perfect solution. For example, hi-tech solutions are not currently accessible for every type of dental practice. Will they be in the future? Absolutely. In time, as the technology develops and costs come down, it is likely to become the cornerstone of every business. In the years to come, it could help all dental settings to work more efficiently. How long will that be? No one can answer that, but it could be sooner than some think.

Final thoughts

We will see the effects of increasing the number of overseas dentists joining the UK dental service in the coming years. It is also important to consider the role that new technology and AI may have on the dental profession as a whole in the near future.

But will this have the desired impact? Will it be enough? Who should be driving the changes? If you have any thoughts to share, the conversation continues on The Digital Dental Pathway discussion page on social media.

Stephen Claffey Managing Director of Dental Pathway™ and the Independent Dental Advisory Board™