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What are the issues?

07 February, 2024

Access to dental care in the UK is recognised as being under severe pressure with insufficient capacity available to deliver NHS care. 

We have no powers or influence over where dental professionals practise, whether they provide NHS or private dental services, work in clinical or non-clinical roles. 

Only those who are registered with us can practise dentistry in the UK. We grant registration only to those dental professionals who meet our requirements on education and training, health and good character.  

For dental professionals who have qualified outside the UK, their route to register to practise in the UK depends on where they qualified.  

All international registration routes have been under pressure – from a combination of restrictive legislation which prevented us from increasing fees in order to increase the scale of some routes, and excess pressure caused by the pandemic when the practical test for dentists to register to practise in the UK was suspended from April 2020 to January 2022. 

After years of discussion, negotiation and collaboration with the Department of Health and Social Care, legislation changes were agreed in 2022 and some changes took place from 8 March 2023, with further changes effective from 9 March 2024. 

Legislative changes which are fully effective from March 2024 remove constraints which have limited the capacity of the Overseas Registration Examination (ORE) taken by dentists with qualifications from outside the UK and EEA member states. We are committed to using the new freedoms to improve the ORE and have already significantly increased the number of places available – but that will not and cannot solve the wider issues affecting the provision of NHS care. 

Sustained work is needed across the dental sector by everybody involved in the provision of dental services to ensure that capacity and need are better aligned than they are today. 

One of the immediate legislative changes on 8 March 2023 was to close a route for dentists who qualified overseas to register in the UK as a DCP. Notification of this route being about to close resulted in a very significant surge of applications for it, creating a backlog of applications. 

The changes are complex and can lead to misunderstandings of their impact and the steps we need to take to use the legislative changes. 

There are misconceptions that the changes to international registration will provide a solution to the challenge of delivering care – and particularly NHS care – which meets patients’ needs. 

It will be easier to see the pattern of workforce issues when we publish data we collected for dentists at the end of 2023, which will give us a very rich picture of where dentists work, the balance between private and NHS practice, and the balance between clinical and non-clinical roles and activities. We are aiming to share the headline results by the end of February 2024, with more detailed analysis to follow.  We will repeat the exercise in the summer to capture a similar picture of the working patterns of dental care professionals as part of their annual renewal process. 

A timeline of relevant events and activities is included in this factsheet.