Six-monthly dental check-ups have been customary in the General Dental Service in the UK since the inception of the NHS. In recent years there has been significant debate over the timing of recall intervals for dental check-ups, and this has coincided with a move towards making NHS dental services in England and Wales more oriented to prevention and more clinically effective in meeting patients' needs.

The Department of Health's strategy document NHS Dentistry: Options for Change (2002) and subsequent legislation are bringing about changes in the organisation of dental services and the way in which oral health is assessed. Under the new arrangements, a comprehensive oral health assessment will be conducted when a patient first visits a dental practice and will involve taking full histories, carrying out thorough dental and head and neck examinations and providing initial preventive advice. The dentist and patient will discuss the findings and agree a personalised care plan and a 'destination' for this journey of care. The dental team and patient will then work through this first personal care plan.

After an agreed interval, the patient will return for an oral health review, during which the histories and examination will be updated and any changes in risk factors noted. The dental team will also assess the effectiveness of the treatment and preventive advice provided previously, and will give more advice as necessary. The patient and dentist will discuss the findings of the review and agree the next, refined, personalised care plan and a specific 'destination' for this new journey of care.

The purpose of this guideline is to help clinicians assign recall intervals between oral health reviews that are appropriate to the needs of individual patients. The recommendations apply to patients of all ages (both dentate and edentulous) receiving primary care from NHS dental staff in England and Wales. The guideline takes into account the potential of the patient and the dental team to improve or maintain the patient's quality of life and to reduce morbidity associated with oral and dental disease.

The recommendations take account of the impact of dental checks on: patients' wellbeing, general health and preventive habits; caries incidence and avoiding restorations; periodontal health and avoiding tooth loss; and avoiding pain and anxiety.

This guideline does not cover:

  • recall intervals for scale and polish treatments

  • the prescription and timing of dental radiographs

  • intervals between examinations that are not routine dental recalls; that is, intervals between examinations relating to ongoing courses of treatment

  • emergency dental interventions or intervals between episodes of specialist care.

The following guidance is based on the best available evidence. There is evidence relating to risk factors for oral disease and on the effectiveness of dental health education and oral health promotion, and this was used to inform the guideline recommendations. However, the research evidence on many aspects of dental recall intervals was limited, and recommendations were based on the clinical experience of the guideline development group and advice received during the consultation process.