Official figures have revealed that nearly 50% of the dentists who joined the health service in England last year, qualified abroad.
Of the 2,200 dentists who joined the NHS last year, 17% were from Poland. A total of 21,111 dentists were there, according to the NHS Information Centre data. This is the highest figure in 10 years. There has been a 28% increase in the number of NHS dentists in England compared with 1997, when there were 16,500 dentists.
There has been an increase from 40% in 2004-05 to 46% last year in the proportion of dentists who qualified abroad.
The data published by NHS shows that there is a 2.4% increase in the number of people registered with an NHS dentist from 2005. In other words, half a million more people have registered this year.
45% of adults and 64% of children were registered with an NHS dentist. The number of treatments given to children rose to 7.4 million in 2006 from 6.1million in 2004. On the contrary, the number of treatments for adults decreased to 25.8 million in 2006 from 27 million in 2004.
According to the British Dental Association, the NHS should not depend on foreign dentists. It also said that the NHS numbers may be affected by a disputed contract that was brought in this April.
The new contract establishes how the NHS dentists charge their patients and fixes new goals. The contract is rejected by around 1 in 10 dentists.
Professor Denise Lievesley, chief executive of the Information Centre, said: "These figures provide a long term view on dental workforce and activity under the old NHS dental contract.
"Major changes in the NHS contract came into force from 1 April 2006 and the impact of this on dental provision will be reflected in a report to be published in October."
The British Dental Association's chief executive, Peter Ward said: "The figures published today don't tell the full story with many patients still struggling to find a dentist."
"We welcome dentists from overseas but this is only a short-term solution to the shortage of dentists caused by poor workforce planning in the past.
"We must also wait to see the impact of the new NHS contract, given that one in 10 of the new contracts were rejected by dentists and around one in four are in dispute."
According to the Liberal Democrat health spokeswoman Sandra Gidley, the figures did not take into account the "thousands" of dentists who have left the NHS because of the new dental contract