NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


May 11, 2006

Britain's state-financed dental service, which, stretched beyond its limit, no longer serves everyone and no longer even pretends to try, says the New York Times.

Britain has too few public dentists for too many people:

  • At the beginning of the year, just 49 percent of the adults and 63 percent of the children in England and Wales were registered with public dentists.
  • And now, discouraged by what they say is the assembly-line nature of the job and by a new contract that pays them to perform a set number of "units of dental activity" per year, even more dentists are abandoning the health service and going into private practice -- some 2,000 in April alone, the British Dental Association says.

How does this affect the teeth of the nation?

"People are not registered with dentists, they can't afford to go private and therefore their teeth are going rotten," says Paul Rowen, the member of Parliament for Rochdale (England). Rotting teeth and no one to treat them are among his constituents' biggest complaints, up there with gas prices and shrinking pensions. Just 33 percent of the Rochdale population is signed up with a state dentist, down from 58 percent in 1997.

Nor is the level of care what it might be. The system, critics say, encourages state dentists to see too many patients in too short a time and to cut corners by, for instance, extracting teeth rather than performing root canals.

Source: Sarah Lyall, "In a Dentist Shortage, British (Ouch) Do It Themselves," New York Times, May 7, 2006.

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