Cancer patients will see ‘few benefits’ of free dentistry, says BDA

'Few benefits' of free dentistry for cancer patients, says BDA

As MPs debate whether to extend free NHS dentistry to cancer patients, experts have expressed concern that those already eligible are not receiving care.

Yesterday (17 April), the government considered whether to extend free NHS dentistry provision to those who have been diagnosed with cancer.

Currently, patients are eligible for free NHS dental care if they are pregnant or have given birth in the past 12 months when treatment begins. This is because hormonal changes and morning sickness can worsen oral health.

However, the British Dental Association (BDA) has said that many of these patients are not receiving the free care that they are entitled to.

According to the BDA, an average of 840,000 claims for free maternity dentistry were made per year between 2015 and 2020. This fell to 245,967 in 2020/21, with the latest figures still much lower at 542,353 in 2022/23. This means more than one million maternity appointments have been lost since COVID-19 lockdown.

The association said while many groups should receive free care, ‘the reality is there really isn’t enough NHS dentistry to go round’.

BDA chair Eddie Crouch said: ‘Many patients have a strong claim for free NHS dentistry, but sadly those who already have it are seeing few benefits. Pregnant women and new mums are eligible because of the material risk to their teeth and gums. But 1.25 million have missed out, and there’s little sign of recovery. Government needs to park the spin, and deliver a serious plan to restore access to millions.’

‘The cost of dental work can be overwhelming’

This week’s parliamentary debate is the result of a petition to provide free dental treatment to all cancer patients. It was started in 2020 by Michele Solak, who was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2016.

She said: ‘Whilst undergoing treatment many cancer patients who have previously had little or no dental issues experience loss or crumbling of teeth together with a whole host of other dental problems that occur during or after treatment for cancer. The cost of dental work can be overwhelming, even with care on the NHS. That’s why I’m asking the government to introduce free dental care for cancer patients.’

The petition has been signed by almost 200,000 people. It asks Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and health secretary Victoria Atkins to make dental care free for a period of five years following a cancer diagnosis, or for life if the cancer is not curable.

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