To ask the Secretary of State for Health how many dentists worked within the NHS in each year since 1997; and what steps he has taken to ensure people have access to an NHS dentist. 
The number of dentists seeing national health service patients at 30 September in each of the years 1997 to 2001 is shown in the table.
|Number of dentists||20,506||21,066||21,587||21,931||22,506|
Among other initiatives, the following steps have been taken in recent years to improve access to NHS dentistry in England:
£10 million was made available between 1997 and 1999 under the Investing in Dentistry scheme to allow dentists to increase their NHS commitment or start new practices in areas of poor access.
A Dental Care Development Fund of £4 million was made available in 2000–01, along with £6 million Dental Action Plan money in 2001–02, to allow practices to grow and treat more patients.
49 dental access centres have been established since 1998, treating unregistered patients in areas of poor access.
The Health and Social Care (Community Health and Standards) Bill, currently before Parliament, proposes that each primary care trust be given a duty to provide or secure primary dental services to the extent it considers reasonable to do so. This would mean that access issues could be addressed at the local level.
People wishing to find a dentist should call NHS Direct. They will be put in touch with their nearest dentist accepting new NHS patients.