Dentists who left the NHS over the controversial new contract are starting to come back with their tail between their legs because of the recession, it has emerged.
Ros Hamburger, consultant in dental public health for the region, said she has started to see a boost in the number of dentists wanting to rekindle their relationship with the National Health Service.
It comes as the economic downturn means people are thinking twice about paying for private treatment if they can get it cheaper as an NHS patient.
“Very few dentists completely left the NHS over the new contracts,” said Ms Hamburger.
“But as the credit crunch bites, many of those who left are coming back and asking for their contracts back.
“Some who left at the time said it wasn’t just economic reasons but they felt they couldn’t do the work they liked with the new contracts.”
Ms Hamburger, who was reporting to Birmingham’s Health Scrutiny Committee, added: “Some dentists will always be fed up. I remember one moaning to me, then driving off in his Porche.
“There is an assumption that NHS dentistry is hard to find but in fact, we have a lot of NHS dentists taking on new patients in Birmingham
“Figures from the Birmingham primary care trusts show 40 per cent of people are accessing an NHS dentist, which is quite a concern, but we have the capacity to see 60 per cent of the population.”
The new NHS dentists contract, introduced in April 2006, was accused of discouraging time-consuming interventions to save natural teeth by some unhappy dentists as it specified three charges for anything from a check-up to root filling falling into either £15.50, £42.40 or £189.
Despite protests, across Birmingham and the Black Country, 356 of 372 contracts (or 95 per cent) signed the contract.
Figures from the NHS Information Centre last year showed that dentists were extracting more teeth and providing patients with fewer X-rays, fillings and crowns in the years following the new contract with nationally less people visiting an NHS practice.
Britain’s leading oral health charity the British Dental Health Foundation has warned the recession could affect the nation’s dental health.
Members were concerned there would be knee-jerk calls for health bosses to economise and not investing in important but expensive projects to prevent tooth decay.
Dr Nigel Carter, chief executive of the Foundation, said: “The first cavity a person experiences determines their dental health needs for the rest of their lives. Early investment can save huge sums in healthcare later.
“The economic downturn has affected all of us, but we should not allow the situation to affect health needs.”
Before the contracts were signed, Birmingham Local Dental Committee warned almost eight out of ten dentists across the city would cut down on National Health Service work claiming patients would find it more difficult to find a practice offering NHS treatment.