Children are being forced to wait 3 years or more for braces or corrective dental treatment because of  new government regulations that affect the way dentists work.

According to the British Dental Association (BDA), patients needing treatment to straighten protruding teeth or correct misaligned jaws are facing long waits and permanent dental damage because of a shortage of practitioners and a lack of funding for orthodontic work.

An estimated 2 million Britons are now unable to find NHS dentists after the introduction of dental contracts by the Department of Health in April, prompting increasing numbers to seek treatment abroad.

While many children require dental surgery before adulthood to prevent permanent damage, the new contracts will cut the number of children receiving orthodontic work by up to a fifth, the BDA reports.

Under the previous system, dentists were responsible for budgeting for orthodontic treatment. They are now limited to spending a certain amount each year, forcing them to limit treatment to the most needy.

A lack of funding for training has also exacerbated the shortage of specialist orthodontic dentists.

It’s estimated that the new criteria will reduce the number of children treated by up to 20%. Those who do qualify for treatment may find they are on a waiting list of several years.

The BDA says that some dentists who formerly provided orthodontics in less complex cases have now been given purely dental contracts, which has led to a reduction in the amount of orthodontic treatment.

The Department of Health says that the transition to the new arrangements has inevitably thrown some challenges, but it is confident that the NHS is taking advantage of the reforms to put orthodontic services onto a more secure footing for the future.

[Times, UK, November 14, 2006]