A SHAKE-UP to NHS dentistry in Wales will see patients move to yearly check-ups in an attempt to cut the coronavirus backlog and make it easier for people to see a dentist.

The country’s new chief dental officer, Andrew Dickenson, said scrapping the “outdated” practice of recalling people for check-ups every six months would help free up appointments and allow practices across Wales to see up to 112,000 new patients a year.

Professor Dickenson said a vast improvement in oral health among adults over the last two decades has led to a decrease in tooth decay and people wearing dentures and means bi-yearly check-ups are now “unnecessary” for many.

“What we’ve noticed is that people’s mouth conditions have substantially improved over the last 20 to 30 years to the point they no longer need a routine six-monthly check-up,” he told PA news agency.

“So we’ve looked at changing dentist’s contracts to ensure they are seeing patients on a needs basis.

“Dentists will create a personal care plan with people and advise them how often they need to come in.

“For those who do not need treatment, they will be put on an extended recall interval to be seen every 12 months.

“We believe this will give the dentist more flexibility to see patients who actually need their care, and it will improve access for those patients who are currently reporting they find it very difficult to get to see a dentist.”

Children and young people under 18 will continue to be offered check-ups every six months, he said.

More than two-thirds (78 per cent) of all NHS dental practices have voluntarily signed up to the changes, and have therefore been given a small target of “new patients” to see.

They will be required to open up slots for new patients, which are defined as people who have not yet registered with a dentist, and those who are registered but have not been seen by their dentist in more than four years.

Professor Dickenson said there would be a focus on combating gum disease, which is still prevalent in adults in mid-to-late life.

And on training more dentists and dental staff in Wales to combat an ongoing recruitment crisis.

He said he wants to attract more dentists to work in Wales – particularly in rural areas – as well as better utilise dental hygienists and therapists.

There are around 1,400 dentists and 2,800 hygienists and therapists in Wales, with the only school of dentistry in the country in Cardiff.

“I’m confident that we’ll start to see a change in the number of patients who are reporting difficulty accessing a dentist, but it’s not going to happen quickly. It could take a few years to fully implement,” Professor Dickenson said.

Due to the difficulties created by the pandemic, he said it could take between three to five years before the benefits of the new system are felt and anyone asking for an NHS dentist slot is able to get one.

Anyone having trouble registering for a practice should contact their local health board who should help you find a dentist in your area, the Welsh Government recommends.

The voluntary changes have been brought in by the Welsh Government by varying the current Units of Dental Activity (UDA) contract system which has been used in England and Wales since 2006 and was deemed “unfit for purpose” by the UK Government’s Health Select Committee.

Further changes could be seen in the next financial year following another consultation with dentists, with an aim eventually to put the new contract into law.