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Last Updated: Monday, 20 June, 2005, 21:37 GMT 22:37 UK
Dental chiefs face up to problems
Dentist and patient
Many dentists have chosen to work in the private sector
Leading dental officials have faced a public grilling over service standards during a meeting in Aberdeenshire.

About 100 people gathered in Inverurie on Monday night to air their concerns over the growing lack of NHS dental services within the region.

Chief dental officer for Scotland, Ray Watkins, admitted the government had not acted quickly enough to address the shortage of NHS dentists.

The meeting was arranged by Scottish National Party MSP Richard Lochhead.

Mr Lochhead had previously said he was concerned about the shortfall in dental service provision.

Aberdeenshire has one of the lowest levels of NHS dentists in Scotland with long queues of hundreds of people a common sight outside the regional surgeries.

We have to build the service from the bottom and that will be difficult over the next few years, but that is the way we have to go
Ray Watkins
Chief dental officer for Scotland

One dentist recently opened an NHS practice in Stonehaven and was besieged by 1,500 prospective patients.

Mr Watkins said there had been problems recruiting dentists as many had opted out of working within the health service to go into private practice.

However, he sought to reassure the public that the trend was being reversed as the government was now addressing the problem by investing more money in dentistry and increasing the number of dental students.

He said: "We need to build a new NHS service from our young people and that is the experience we have seen in many parts of Scotland already.

"We have to build the service from the bottom and that will be difficult over the next few years, but that is the way we have to go."

Part-time post

Chairman of the British Dental Association in Scotland, Andrew Lamb, added: "The way that dentistry is currently funded makes it very difficult for dentists to deliver 21st dentistry on the NHS."

Members of the public attending the meeting expressed concern over getting NHS dental treatment for their children and anger over "privatisation" within the system.

More than 1m was set aside last year to help ease the crisis in Scotland's dental services.

The Scottish Executive came under fire in January for making the job of chief dental officer a part-time post.

Opposition politicians said the move showed the executive's failure to take the problem seriously.

Recent figures suggested more than half of all adults in Scotland were not registered with an NHS dentist.

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