Dentists in Hertfordshire are being encouraged to see patients less frequently – freeing up more appointments for those who are struggling to find an NHS dentist.

Traditionally patients have been booked-in for routine check-ups every six months – regardless of their dental health.

But now – as part of a national drive – NHS dentists across the county are to be encouraged to delay to 12 or even 24 months, if clinically appropriate.

The move was highlighted on Tuesday, March 26, at a meeting of the county’s health and wellbeing board.

There are hopes that the move could make more appointments with NHS dentists available, for adults and children across the county.

Contracting and commissioning of dental services in the county has been delegated to the Herts and West Essex Integrated Care Board (HWEICB) since April 2023.

This was highlighted as part of a report designed to update members of the county’s Health and Wellbeing Board on “the current landscape of dental services”.

HWEICB director of primary care and transformation Avni Shah stresses that the time between routine dental appointments would only be extended where clinically appropriate.

She says that in some cases – where there was greater dental need – it would allow for more frequent three-monthly sessions too.

According to the report presented to the Health and Wellbeing Board, Hertfordshire is now “well served” for NHS dental services compared to other areas.

But the report does acknowledge “patients are still experiencing  difficulties in finding an NHS dentist”.

Dental access rates, have increased since the end of the pandemic – but they remain lower than pre-Covid, according to the report.

It also said access remains lower in most deprived areas across adults and children.

Those least likely to access dental services are aged between 25 and 34 – with men in this age group being lower.

However, the exact number of residents who have not seen a dentist recently is not known – with patients being able to move between practices or register privately.

As part of a bid to improve access, since December the ICB has piloted a service that has provided an additional 1,745 same-day appointments – booked via 111.

It was reported to the board that calls for urgent dental care through 111 had increased.

Among other plans, it was also reported that patient charges for dental treatment were set to increase from April 24.

At the meeting, Neil Tester, from Healthwatch Hertfordshire, pointed to the one-in-three people that he said were reducing the number of check-ups or preventative dental treatment because they couldn’t afford it.

He added that he was concerned about those people who were not eligible for free treatment who were not able to afford treatment charges.

According to the report, there are currently 19 orthodontic, 152 general dental services, one special care, one prison, one domiciliary and 16 minor oral surgery NHS contracts in Hertfordshire.

The prison dental service is not currently managed by the ICB.