A dental surgeon, or dentist, is an individual trained to diagnose and treat disorders of the teeth and gums, as well as to advise on preventive measures to ensure that these areas remain healthy. Dentists qualify after a four-year course at dental school and then register with the GENERAL DENTAL COUNCIL, which is responsible for maintaining educational and professional standards. Around 25,000 dentists practise in the NHS and private sector.
Over the past four decades the ﬁnancial outlay on NHS dental services has been around 5 per cent of total NHS funding. This contrasts with 10 per cent during the service’s early years, when the NHS was coping with decades of ‘dental neglect’. The population’s dental health has, however, been steadily improving: in 1968 more than one-third of people had no natural teeth; by the late 1990s the proportion had fallen to 13 per cent.
Dentistry is divided into several groupings.
General dental practitioners Concerned with primary dental care, the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of diseases of the gums and teeth – for example, caries (see TEETH, DISORDERS OF). They also deal with diﬃculties in biting and the eﬀects of trauma, and are aware that oral disorders may reﬂect disease elsewhere in the body. They will refer to the hospital dental services, patients who require treatment that cannot be satisfactorily carried out in a primary-care setting.
Most routine dental prevention and treatment is carried out in general dental practitioners’ surgeries, where the dentists also supervise the work of hygienists and dental auxiliaries. Appliances, such as dentures, crowns, bridges and orthodontic appliances are constructed by dental technicians working in dental laboratories.
There are around 18,800 dentists providing general dental services in the UK. These practitioners are free to accept or reject any potential patient and to practise where they wish. Those dentists treating patients under an NHS contract (a mixture of capitation fees and items of service payments) can also treat patients privately (for an appropriate fee). Some dentists opt for full-time private practice, and their numbers are increasing in the wake of changes in 1990 in the contracts of NHS general dental practitioners.
Community dental practitioner Part of the public-health team and largely concerned with monitoring dental health and treating the young and the handicapped.
In the hospitals and dental schools are those who are involved in only one of the specialities.
Around 2,800 dentists work in NHS hospitals and 1,900 in the NHS’s community services. In some parts of the UK, people wanting NHS treatment are having diﬃculties ﬁnding dentists willing to provide such care.
Restorative dentist Concerned with the repair of teeth damaged by trauma and caries, and the replacement of missing teeth.
Orthodontist Correction of jaws and teeth which are misaligned or irregular. This is done with appliances which may be removable or ﬁxed to the teeth which are then moved with springs or elastics.