Is a signed letter in the Daily Telegraph really the right way forward?

Publishing a signed letter in the Daily Telegraph isn’t the best way to get results, Michael Watson argues.

On the day that the Daily Telegraph published what it appears is now an annual letter from 400+ disgruntled dentists, Public Health England launched a national campaign to promote healthier snacks and reduce sugar consumption among children.

The significance of this is that the letter said: ‘There is no national media campaign for dental disease prevention,’ an unfortunate error.

Top tips for Teeth

The new campaign is aimed at reducing both childhood obesity and dental decay in children.

As Claire Stevens, president of British Society of Paediatric Dentistry, said: ‘It’s the first time in some years that dentistry has featured in such a high profile national public health campaign and this is real progress.’

This is surely more positive than the generally negative approach of the Daily Telegraph letter, drafted and promoted by Tony Kilcoyne, a member of the BDA’s Principal Executive Committee (PEC).

I am assured that the letter is not a statement of BDA policy, but that does raise the question of what one of the association’s directors was doing writing it.

The new public health campaign is supportive of dentists, providing a free toolkit – titled Top Tips for Teeth – including, posters, leaflets, badges and a briefing guide to be used in a dental practice setting.


Later this month, the first-year evaluation of the prototypes will also be published, which may point the way forward to contract reform.

Whether we like the outcome of this review or not, it does refute the Daily Telegraph letter’s contention that ‘the Government remains unengaged’.

Many dentists have criticised the pace and direction of change, not least the BDA.

But colleagues are closely involved in the prototypes and thus potentially putting the viability of their practices at risk.

They deserve the support of all members of the PEC, including Tony Kilcoyne, and not derided for their efforts, which is how the Daily Telegraph letter reads.

NHS dentistry has many problems in addressing the needs and demands of our patients, but it is not a ‘national health disaster’, as the letter contends.

There is no ‘magic wand’ that can be waved to make it all better.

In England, where there is no central structure, the battle must be fought place by place and there are many dedicated dentists, patient organisations, MPs, local authorities and even those in NHS management engaged in this work.

But change is possible; as Claire Stevens, BSPD president, said: ‘With our national Dental Check by One campaign in 2017 and the launch of Starting Well programmes already underway, I firmly believe that we are going to start to see a difference in children’s oral health in the year ahead.’

Powerful leader

A final thought: ministers do not respond well to diatribes such as the Daily Telegraph letter.

They do respond to backbench pressure, especially with a minority government.

Last year there was a significant Westminster Hall debate, two adjournment debates and numerous questions, with many of the MPs being briefed by BDA staff and its committee members.

Then there is the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for Dentistry and Oral Health, which at its meeting before Christmas received a powerful speech from PEC chair, Mick Armstrong.

The BDA works best when it unites behind a powerful leader, something on which Tony Kilcoyne might reflect the next time he has the urge to indulge in some freelance activity.

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