A new European ruling on silver dental fillings will have significant impacts on NHS dentistry, leading professionals have warned.
The European Parliament has voted to ban dental amalgam – the material used most commonly for NHS permanent fillings in the UK – by January 2025.
The British Dental Association (BDA) said the ban would lead to supply chain issues across the UK.
BREAKING: European Parliament back the amalgam ban.
This will hit struggling practices in all four UK nations – but will represent an existential threat to services in Northern Ireland.
— BDA (@TheBDA) January 17, 2024
Northern Ireland would see the largest impact because post-Brexit rules would mean the country would have to phase out dental amalgam on the same basis as European Union member states, the BDA said.
Amalgam is used in around a third of procedures in the UK.
The BDA said alternatives would cost a significant amount more and would also lead to treatment times taking longer.
It warned that the ban could be “the straw that breaks the back of NHS dentistry”.
Writing to the UK’s chief dental officers, the BDA warned the ruling was “likely to significantly affect the delivery of dentistry and population oral health in the UK”.
It added: “We are extremely concerned about the impact this EU phase-out will have on services across the UK, both directly under post-Brexit arrangements and indirectly as a result of supply chain collapse in Europe.
“The loss of a vital restorative material and its replacement with more expensive and time-consuming alternatives is only a further blow to the financial viability of NHS dentistry.”
BDA chairman Eddie Crouch said: “When we are set to lose a key weapon in the treatment of tooth decay, all four UK governments appear asleep at the wheel.
“When alternative materials can’t compete, this will add new costs and new uncertainties to practices already on the brink.
“Without decisive action this could be the straw that breaks the back of NHS dentistry.”
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “The UK’s position remains to phase down the use of dental amalgam.
“Dentistry should be accessible and available to all who need it and we want every adult and child who needs an NHS dentist to get one regardless of where in England they live.
“Access to dentistry is improving and last year 1.7 million more adults and some 800,000 more children saw an NHS dentist, but we know there is more to do which is why the Government and NHS England are working on a dentistry plan to make further improvements.”