I congratulate Judith Cummins on securing the debate, which has come significantly earlier this evening than perhaps we had expected. I am sure that that is one of the reasons for the increased turnout, but the main reason is that this is a very serious and important subject, which affects lots and lots of our constituents. I thank Members for being here.
Of course, everyone should have access to a dentist, and those who want it should have access to an NHS dentist. It is a fact that the two main dental diseases—dental caries or decay, and periodontal or gum disease—can be almost eliminated by the combination of good diet and correct tooth brushing, backed up by regular examinations by a dentist. Let me acknowledge from the outset, therefore, the vital role that dentists play in maintaining and improving the oral health of all our constituents.
As hon. Members may be aware, NHS England has a statutory duty to commission services to improve the health of the population and to reduce inequalities. The hon. Lady spoke passionately about that, as she always does. In this instance, NHS England’s statutory duty is to commission primary NHS dental services to meet local need. I appreciate that, as she has highlighted, there are of course areas with access difficulties—to put it mildly—such her constituency of Bradford South, as well as those represented by other Members in the Chamber, but overall access continues to increase.
The January to March 2017 GP patient survey results were published in July, and I looked at them today. They showed that 59% of adults questioned had tried to get an NHS dental appointment in the past two years. Of those trying to get an appointment, 95% were successful. Looking, as I did today, at the latest figures for patients seen by NHS dentists, I can tell the hon. Lady that 22.2 million adult patients aged 18 and over were seen in the 24 months ending