Patient access to dentists has improved 'substantially'
Access to NHS dentists in Wales has "improved substantially" for patients, according to a healthcare charity.
The Patients Association said "innovative" NHS management had helped improve the situation for many.
One area - Hywel Dda Local Health Board, which covers west Wales - has seen 40,000 extra patients register with an NHS dentist since 2006.
It comes as the health minister announced dental charges in Wales are to remain frozen for a fourth year.
Welsh health minister Edwina Hart said the decision had been made to help maintain wider access to NHS dentistry.
Many areas of Wales have previously suffered badly from a shortage of NHS dentists, with hundreds in some towns and cities queuing to join newly opened lists.
NHS DENTAL CHARGES
Check-up - £12
Treatment - £39
Crowns, bridges and dentures - £177
Source: Welsh Assembly Government
Ms Hart said increased levels of funding had improved access to NHS dental services, although she acknowledged there may still be areas where access remained difficult.
"The latest figures show that more work is being done for the NHS by more dentists in Wales.
"Areas where access has proved difficult in the past have seen some of the greatest improvements.
"In the Hywel Dda LHB area for example, there are now over 40,000 more people accessing NHS dental care than in March 2006.
"By freezing dental charges again we are maintaining access to NHS dentistry for Welsh citizens and helping to tackle oral health inequalities."
Figures published in 2005 showed less than half the Welsh population was registered with a dentist, and in some parts of the country, particularly rural areas, patients were having to travel over 100 miles in some cases to find NHS treatment.
Hundreds of people queuing to join newly opened patient lists became a regular sight in certain areas.
Vanessa Bourne from the Patients' Association said access to dentistry in Wales had improved a lot in recent years.
"It shows what you can do with some inventive NHS management, considering how bad it was, and [how bad] the oral health of children was in some parts of Wales," she said.
"A lot of the local health boards have put some imagination into it.
"It has improved really substantially for patients."
Stuart Geddes, director of the British Dental Association Wales, welcomed the news the charges would remain frozen, but added: "In an ideal world, we'd like all our NHS services to be free at the point of need but I'm sure that isn't going to happen.
"We have had some problems with the old local health boards which didn't get as much patient charge revenue coming in as they thought they would, which meant they weren't able to offer all the services they would have wanted to.
"The access appears not to be a problem any more."
He added NHS dental charges totalled £30m each year.