Students Staff

12 September 2011

End of six-month dental check-up?

Southend Campus

Dentist at work

Radical plans to revolutionise when we book dental check-ups are workable and could better target NHS funds to patients who need them the most, according to a study by the University.

Routine six-monthly dental check-ups have been the norm for decades, despite there being little evidence to support this being a good interval for all patients.

A collaborative clinical audit project between Dr Phillip Cannell, Senior Lecturer in Oral Health Science at the University, and NHS South East Essex, looked at the feasibility of selecting appropriate check-up intervals for dental patients based on their risk of developing dental disease in the future.

The idea of tailoring check-up intervals to the specific needs of patients is not new – the National Institute for Clinical Excellence (NICE) recommended this back in 2004. But with both patients and dentists alike seeming to be happy with the six-monthly dental check-ups, there has been little reason to change.

However, it is likely the new NHS dental contracts – currently being piloted across England – will include assigning appropriate check-up intervals to patients based on their risk status as a key feature of the finalised new contracts, due to start in 2014.

“Quite where the ‘six-monthly’ check-up with the dentist originated is one of those enigmas to which we may never know the answer,” explained Dr Cannell, “But what we do know is the depth to which it is ingrained in the psyche of all concerned. This project provided a means to attempt to break that habit, whilst also targeting healthcare resources to the patients that need them the most.”

The project required dentists to take account of each patient’s susceptibility to developing a number of dental problems including tooth decay, gum disease and oral cancer. The patient was then placed in a risk category with an appropriate recall check-up interval of between three months and two years.

The results of the audit project showed that the system worked well in recording the risk assessment for patients, interpreting those risk factors and thereby helping target resources to patients who needed it the most.

The project has now been nominated for a national clinical audit award by the Healthcare Quality Improvement Partnership (HQIP), which promotes quality in the health services.

Dr Cannell said the nomination was great news for the School of Health and Human Sciences at the University and the Oral Health team. “It also provides valuable national recognition for our collaborative work with the NHS in striving to enhance quality of service,” he added.


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