A total of 16 controversial new Government NHS dental contracts have gone unsigned in Birmingham and the Black Country, Government figures showed yesterday.

Under the new system, the region has service provision of 97.9%.

Health Minister Rosie Winterton said today's figures proved that claims dentists would leave the NHS in a mass exodus "were unfounded", adding that about nine out of 10 dentists across the country have signed up.

She said the figures showed that contracts signed by dentists accounted for around 96% of NHS dental services to patients.

The figures mean that up to one million people lost their dentist under the shake-up.

But Ms Winterton insisted that some health authorities had already begun to fill the gaps by re-commissioning services.

She added that the figures reflected the fact that many of those who rejected the contract had a "relatively small NHS commitment".

She added: "Claims that dentists would leave the NHS in a mass exodus were unfounded.

"Around nine out of 10 dentists have signed up to the new contract, and these dentists provide around 96% of current NHS dental services.

"PCTs are already making progress in replacing the small proportion of services where dentists have not taken up the new contract - something they did not have the power to do under the old system."

Under the new contract, instead of being paid for each NHS treatment they carry out, dentists are given a guaranteed income estimated to be about #80,000 a year for three years.

Dental charges have also been simplified into three pay bands to replace the old system, which saw around 400 separate payments.