The number of people who have visited an NHS dentist has fallen to under 27 million in the last two years, with many seeking private dentistry or missing out on treatment altogether.
The figures are contained in the latest report from the NHS Information Centre and show that 1.2 million fewer people saw an NHS dentist in the two years leading to June 2008 than in the two years leading up to March 2006, when the old dental contract was abolished.
However, dentists do not appear to be suffering as a result, as their pay has risen by 11 per cent since the start of the new dental contract.
The figures suggest that dentists are making their money by carrying out more courses of treatment on a smaller number of patients.
Tim Straughan, chief executive of the NHS Information Centre, said that the report gives "an in-depth picture of NHS dental care across England".
"With its wealth of regional and local figures it will be of huge interest and value to policymakers and NHS managers across the country," he claimed.
"But despite the fall in the number of people being seen by NHS dentists, the report also highlights an increase in the number of treatments being delivered to patients who see an NHS dentist."
Peter Ward, chief executive of the British Dental Association, said that the figures show the problems created by the 2006 dental reforms.
He commented: "According to the government's own figures, there are more than three million people in England alone who want access to NHS dentistry but can't get it."
Independent advice on private healthcare