The proportion of the population who were treated by an NHS dentist in the last two years has fallen since the service was overhauled. But both the number of NHS dentists and treatments provided in England did rise in 2008/2009 from the previous year.
The data from the NHS Information Centre shows complex treatments including crowns and root canals have fallen dramatically.
Some 53.8% of the population saw an NHS dentist in the two years ending March 2009, down 1.9 percent from the two years ending March 2006, although this has started to creep up marginally in the last year.
The new dental contract was introduced in a bid to end what was dubbed the ‘drill and fill’ culture, in which dentists were paid by the number of treatments they carried out. There has been severe criticism of the new contract, which was structured to allow dentists to spend more time on preventative work with individual patients, by paying them a flat salary.
An average dentist's pay is in the region of £90,000 and many earn in excess of £200,000. Because they receive this salary whether they carry out simple or complex treatment, critics argue that the financial incentive to carry out difficult work such as crowns or root canals has been removed.