Each dental practice will have its own policies on regular attendance. Your dentist will usually suggest when to attend for your next dental checkup, this can vary patient to patient depending on your individual circumstances and needs. If you miss any checkups then its likely that your dentist will accept new patients in your place and then may no longer have capacity to offer you an appointment again.
But I keep hearing there is no such thing as ‘registered patients lists’ any more
As a part of the last NHS dentistry contract shake up, NHS dental practices were no longer supposed to keep a list of ‘registered patients’. This was in a short-sighted effort to make dentistry more accessible – the idea being if dentists don’t have lists of registered patients, that patients could just book in at any dentist and the problems accessing NHS dentistry might magically be solved.
In reality, this magical solution was never going to work. Magically allowing patients to attend any dentist did not magically provide the extra dentists or funding required to see more patients.
There are still not enough NHS dentists, practices or contracts to meet demand. This is by design. Funding for NHS dentistry has been decreasing in real terms over the last decade.
All NHS dentistry is subsided by taxes. Even patients who pay for their NHS dental treatment have their payment ‘topped up’ by taxes to help cover the true cost of their treatment. If all NHS dentists continually accepted new patients, there simply would not be enough time or NHS funding to provide the care the new patients would need. Dentists therefore have to limit the number of patients they provide care for to match the funding from the NHS.
Dentists build up relationships with their patients. They feel a duty to provide ongoing care, and it helps each individual patient if they see a dentist who knows them, their history and with access to their dental records. Dentists will usually therefore offer priority to “known patients” when booking in for checkups and emergency appointments.
On top of this, the NHS dental contract is unfairly weighted, by design, against new patients, who often have more complex dental needs and therefore use a disproportionally higher amount of time and funding compared with ‘known patients’ who often need much less dental treatment. If NHS dental practices saw just new patients with complex needs, their NHS budget would likely not cover the cost of providing the dental treatment required. Instead the NHS contract relies on dentists having many more ‘known patients’ with low dental needs, to average out the high cost of new patients.
This combined effect of 1) limited/decreasing funding, 2) dentists’ duty of ongoing care, and 3) an unfair weighting against new patients, results in most NHS dental practices offering priority to ‘known patients’ which is essentially the same as the old list of ‘registered patients’.
What if I don’t want to have regular dental checkups?
If you don’t wish to have regular dental checkups then NHS General Dental Services are not designed for you. Instead you might be better suited to using an emergency dentist to simply extract teeth if/when they become painful and/or infected, or a private dentist for ad-hoc dental treatment.