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Dental Service

Volume 885: debated on Tuesday 28 January 1975

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asked the Secretary of State for Social Services whether she is satisfied with the present situation in the National Health Dental Service; and if she will make a statement.

If the hon. Member is referring to dentists' remuneration, we accept that this has fallen behind during the period of statutory pay controls and we have assured the profession that the Government will accept the forthcoming recommendations of the independent review body on doctors' and dentists' remuneration, unless there are clear and compelling reasons for not doing so.

I thank the Minister for that statement. In view of the enormous increase in capital costs that the dentists have had to face compared with the much lower sums spent by the Government on dentistry, will the Minister make sure that when a substantial increase is given in April it will not be affected by any incomes freeze?

I cannot give any more reassurance than I gave in my reply, but I recognise the problems facing dentists, whose practice expenses are rising in a time of rapid inflation. Last year I authorised special advance payments to dentists to help them with those expenses.

Will the hon. Gentleman say a word or two about the future? Will he confirm that all the signs indicate that there will be a serious shortage of dentists within a fairly short time? Can he say anything about the surveys which indicate that the nation's teeth—in particular, the children's teeth—are in a very bad state? Does he think that the dwindling number of dentists will be able to cope with the growing causes of dental decay? As trained dentists are welcomed in many parts of the world, is it wise to clobber the dentists with the self-employed tax, in the same way as other groups of self-employed are being clobbered?

We are reviewing the whole of our dental services. No one can be happy with the present state of the nation's teeth. In particular, the report dealing with children's teeth showed that there were many instances of decay and a considerable amount of periodontal disease. It revealed a generally very worrying situation. We are urgently considering the matter and are examining preventive methods of dealing with the problems of children's teeth in particular, including, perhaps, increased dental services to children in schools.

As the hon. Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Mrs. Knight) indicated to the House yet another of the deplorable legacies left by previous Conservative Governments—rotten teeth—will my hon. Friend give serious consideration to a matter on which he could make a decision quickly, namely, the use of fluorides by both dentists and water authorities in the conservation of teeth?

That is a controversial issue on both sides of the House, but I think it is time the House discussed it. Towards the end of the year the Government hope to put to the House a White Paper on preventive measures affecting many aspects of health. The report drew attention to children's eating sweets and snacks between meals as one the major causes of dental decay.