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Creating a new NHS England: NHS England and NHS Digital merged on 1 February 2023. More about the merger.

NHS Dental Statistics: Annex 5 - Data Quality

NHS Digital regularly publish information on NHS dentistry in England at a national and local level. These publications include facts and figures on the number of people who see an NHS dentist, the volume and type of treatment they receive and the number of NHS dentists. These reports are used by national policy makers to help develop future dental policy and by local NHS managers to help design local dental services.


This publication allows commissioners and policy makers to monitor levels of service delivery to target groups, highlighting changes over time. It provides information to the Department of Health and Social Care and local NHS managers, allowing for monitoring of the provision of dental services and dental expenditure, and helping to inform planning.

The biannual publications (previously quarterly) include information on activity and patients seen. The activity data monitors levels of activity across treatment bands, highlighting changes in practice over time. The key use of the patients seen data is to monitor the effectiveness of the current dental contract.

The annual publication includes the data above along with summary orthodontic data, clinical treatment data and information on patient charges. It also includes dental workforce statistics.

Accuracy and reliability

Provisional activity data are published in the mid-year publication. This is adjusted to provide the estimated final position for national data. Adjustment methodology and factors are published in the guide to dental publications that accompanies the report.

  • final activity data are published in the annual report
  • patients seen data are all final data and are published in the biannual (previously quarterly) and annual reports
  • final data on orthodontics, clinical treatment and patient charges are published in the annual report
  • figures for patient charges may be slightly lower than expected as information is not collected from closed contracts, although the volume of these is limited.

Timeliness and punctuality

This publication is classed as Official Statistics and the publication date was pre-announced. There was no gap between the planned and actual publication date.

  • activity data are published four and a half months after the end of the relevant period
  • patients seen data are published one and a half months after the end of the relevant period.
  • patient charges, orthodontics and clinical data are published four and a half months after the end of the year.

Accessibility and clarity

This publication combines data in table format, commentary and supporting information. The data are freely available via the NHS Digital website.

Additional information is provided in Excel format at sub-national level, including csv files which are suitable for further analysis.

Coherence and comparability

The activity, patients seen and patient charges data covers the period of the current dental contract (introduced in 2006 and revised in 2012) and are not comparable with other previous contracts. The methodologies are consistent with those used by the Welsh Assembly Government. Information was first published in 2008-09 on orthodontic activity. Orthodontic patients are included in the patients seen measure.

The clinical data are a national time series which began in 2008-09. This data is not comparable with clinical data from the previous contract. Prior to 2011-12, the dental statistics were published as ‘Experimental Statistics’.

In April 2019 there were changes to the regional arrangements of NHS bodies, including CCG mergers and the creation of new NHS commissioning regions. These changes limit the capability of mapping dental practices within time series.  Read more about changes to regions and CCGs

Data for 2014-15, 2015-16, 2016-17, 2017-18 and 2018-19 was under-reported due to known data quality issues resulting from a change in the FP10 form (advanced mandatory services). These issues are being rectified and data will be published in due course. Consequently, data for the five years highlighted are not comparable with other years.

Trade-offs between output quality components

The data are published as soon after year end as possible. Time is allowed for analysing and producing the report without impacting on the timeliness of the data.

Assessment of user needs and perceptions

During each publication cycle data quality is assessed by the collection team and the publications team and, where queries arise, data suppliers are contacted to validate and confirm data submissions. Comments can be received through various media modes:


telephone: 0300 303 5678

All NHS Digital publications encourage on line feedback via a ‘Live Chat’ link on the right of web page. This feedback is used to help assess users’ needs and whether this report meets them.

Performance, cost and respondent burden

This data is collected by NHS Dental Services. The majority of the information is collected electronically and data are made available to us for publication as a by-product of these processes. The current contract is designed to simplify data collection requirements.

Confidentiality, transparency and security

The data contained in this publication are Official Statistics. The code of practice is adhered to from collecting the data to publishing: 

All publications are subject to a standard NHS Digital risk assessment prior to issue. Disclosure control is implemented where judged necessary.

For more detailed descriptions of datasets used in the NHS Digital dental publications see the beginners guide to dental data, included in the publication.

Please see links below to the relevant NHS Digital policies.

Statistical Governance Policy

Freedom of Information


Impact of COVID-19

On the 25 March 2020, dental practices were instructed to close and defer routine, non-urgent dental care including orthodontics and establish remote urgent care services to limit the transmission of COVID-19. The restrictions included:

•        Cease all routine dental care (including orthodontics) (UK-wide)

•        Cease all aerosol generating procedures (UK-wide)

•        Offer patients with urgent needs appropriate advice and prescriptions over the phone (UK-wide)

•        Cease all face-to-face urgent care (England, Scotland)

Due to the COVID-19 restrictions the number of FP17 and FP17W claim forms and therefore, the totals regarding activity, patient numbers, finances and  treatments, will be much lower than traditionally expected for the final quarter of 2019-20 and the entire 2020-21 financial year. It is anticipated the number of children patients will be impacted the most. Dental practices could commence opening from 8th June 2020 for all face to face care, including non-urgent treatment and where practices assessed they had the necessary safety requirements in place. Information about instructions from NHS England can be found online.


Dental headcount (2020/21)

The annual 2020/21 publication covers the first year of the coronavirus pandemic that has had a large impact on the healthcare profession. In terms of NHS dentistry, most practices were closed between April and June 2020 and some dental practitioners were redeployed to help with the initial Covid-19 response whilst others faced a longer layoff due to shielding and/or sickness. Although practices started to reopen from June 2020, increased fallow time between treatments and reduced minimum thresholds for NHS dental activity, potentially mean that not all dental practitioners returned to primary care dentistry during 2020/21. This may have contributed to the decrease in the overall dental headcount figure.

Patients seen data error : December 2020-June 2021

The NHS Business Services Authority (BSA) identified an error in the reporting of the number of dental patients seen figures affecting the period December 2020 to June 2021. During the period affected by the Covid-19 pandemic many dental practices began triaging patients to determine the required care. Patients who were only triaged do not meet the criteria for a patient having been seen however they were incorrectly included within the counts of patients seen from December 2020 to June 2021 and as a result the published counts in the 20-21 biannual report, and 20-21 annual report are approximately 0.4% higher than they should be at a national level. 

The NHS BSA have corrected this reporting error and NHS Digital have republished corrected data for December 2020 to June 2021 in the 21-22 biannual report, published in February 2022.

Last edited: 22 August 2022 11:03 am