About this release

This release by Public Health Scotland reports on NHS dental registrations in Scotland between September 2000 and September 2020. In addition, it provides data on contact with an NHS dentist between September 2006 and September 2020.

Generally, the COVID-19 (Coronavirus) outbreak has had little impact on registration rates due to the 'lifetime registration' policy. It has had a slight impact on new patient registrations particularly amongst children in the younger age groups. Participation is a measure of patient attendance at an NHS dentist in the two years prior to the time point of interest. As a result, it could take up to two years before we see the full impact from COVID-19 on participation rates.

Main points

Impact of COVID-19

  • In March 2020, there was an abrupt and sharp fall in the number of patients seen by an NHS dentist, followed by an even larger fall in April.
  • Despite figures subsequently climbing, the number of children seen between May and December 2020 was around a quarter of the 2018-19 monthly average.
  • Between September and November 2020, the number of adults seen was around a third of the 2018-19 monthly average, before falling to 28% of the 2018-19 average in December 2020.


  • 96.0% of the Scottish population were registered with an NHS dentist as at 30 September 2020.
  • 91.4% of children were registered, down from 94.3% in 2019.
  • The biggest decrease was seen in rates for 0-2 year olds, which dropped 14 percentage points between 2019 and 2020 (47.4% and 33.8% respectively). This is likely due to COVID-19 causing a drop in the number of young children being registered with a dentist for the first time.
  • Registration rates for adults continued to increase (97.0% compared to 96.0% in 2019). However, this increase was smaller than seen in previous years.
  • Nearly 100% of adults living in the most deprived areas were registered with an NHS dentist compared to 91.7% in the least deprived areas.

Contact with a Dentist (Participation)

  • As at 30 September 2020, 6 out of 10 registered patients (3.4 million) had seen an NHS dentist within the last two years. The COVID-19 pandemic impact on participation statistics has not fully filtered through – these current rates largely reflect attendance in the previous year (April 2019 – March 2020).
  • In 2020, children and adults from the most deprived areas were less likely to have seen their dentist within the last two years than those from the least deprived areas (73.5% compared to 85.7% of children and 55.9% compared to 67.1% of adults).


This report only includes data on patients registered with an NHS dentist; data for patients registered with or treated by private dentists are not available.

Registration policy has changed over the years; originally, registration with an NHS dentist lapsed after 15 months, increasing to 36 months in April 2006 then to 48 months in April 2009. In April 2010, ‘lifetime registration’ was introduced. These changes have driven up registration rates and affected rates of participation.

Participation is a measure of patient attendance at an NHS dentist in the two years prior to the time point of interest. This relates only to those patients who are registered with an NHS dentist, not those who only see a dentist for occasional or emergency treatment. Participation as a measure was introduced in September 2010 but has been calculated for data since September 2006 to show the effect of changes to registration rules.

On the 23 March 2020, the nation entered a period of 'lockdown' and dental practices were asked to suspend all dental treatments. This means all planned appointments were cancelled long before they were due to take place. A few dental care centres were made available for patients with acute problems during lockdown. However, dentists at these facilities only offered a limited number of treatments in a bid to minimise the risk of coronavirus being spread. Dentists reopened on Monday 22 June. This was initially for emergency care only as part of a planned three-phase return. From 13 July, dentists were able to see patients for the full range of routine non-aerosol associated dental care. From 17 August, aerosol associated treatment was permitted for urgent dental care only.

Further information

Public Health Scotland publishes a wide range of dental statistics. You can find all our dental information on the Data and Intelligence website (external link).

The next release of this report is expected in January 2022 and will present data as at 30 September 2021.

General enquiries

If you have an enquiry relating to this publication, please email phs.dental-info@phs.scot.

Media enquiries

If you have a media enquiry relating to this publication, please contact the Communications and Engagement team.

Requesting other formats and reporting issues

If you require publications or documents in other formats, please email phs.otherformats@phs.scot.

To report any issues with a publication, please email phs.generalpublications@phs.scot.

Older versions of this publication

Versions of this publication released before 16 March 2020 may be found on the Data and Intelligence, Health Protection Scotland or Improving Health websites.

Last updated: 21 March 2024
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