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As healthcare is a devolved matter, this briefing primarily focuses on dental services in England. However, information on the devolved administrations is set out in the sections on costs and usage, with additional information at the end as further reading.

NHS dentistry examinations are chargeable in England and Wales, with further fees determined by the course of treatment. In Scotland and Northern Ireland patients are entitled to free examinations but could pay up to 80% of treatment costs, up to £384. In recent years, although the number of children being seen by NHS dentists in England has increased, the number of adults being seen has fallen. This decrease has been partly attributed to labour shortages in NHS dental practices. It is said that dentists are scaling down their commitments to the NHS or leaving it entirely. For example, leading dental bodies and oral health charities, such as the British Dental Association and the Oral Health Foundation, believe that job dissatisfaction and the existing NHS contracts—which they contend are focused on targets and not patient care—are factors. They are argue labour shortages have impacted on patients, with some facing long journeys to find an NHS dental practice that can treat them or being left unable to see an NHS dentist. Consequently, in some cases people are visiting their general practitioners, hospital accident and emergency departments or undertaking their own treatment to tackle dental pain.

The Government has sought to improve access to oral health services by introducing several measures. This includes through policies such as the NHS outcomes and the starting well frameworks. The Government has also introduced a new prototype contract for NHS dentists. It hopes these measures will increase the number of staff working in NHS dental services and improve oral health, particularly, in children.

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