MARK Drakeford has vowed to improve access to dentists in Wales after two years of disruption.

The first minister said, following recent talks with Wales' chief dental officer, Covid checks at dental surgeries could soon be lifted for most patients.

But Wales' health minister warned it could still be more difficult to see a dentist in future.

The coronavirus pandemic brought non-emergency dental care to a screeching halt in early 2020, and for many people, it has been at least two years since their last check-up.

But access to routine treatment is not just linked to Covid - recent research found the number of dentists offering NHS care in Gwent fell by 25 between 2020 and 2021.

Unions have warned that nationalised dental care is "hanging by a thread" in Wales and England, with dentists dropping out of NHS care to focus on treating private customers.

READ MORE: 'I've been left with no teeth for two years - I'm embarrassed and don't smile'

One Gwent MS said this week his constituents were "struggling" to access an NHS dentist and questioned why it was so difficult to access free treatment when "if you contribute to Denplan, there is suddenly miraculously lots of capacity".

"The longer people go without having a regular check-up, the more people's dental health will deteriorate, meaning that there will be more demand for complex treatment hampering the recovery of services," Monmouth MS Peter Fox said.

Mr Drakeford said fruitful discussions with Wales' chief dental officer meant the situation could soon improve for many patients.

"The proposal is that every patient going to a dentist would provide a respiratory history in advance of their appointment," he told Mr Fox.

"For people who have histories of respiratory illnesses, some of the Covid protections that are currently in place will continue to be necessary, but for people who have non-respiratory histories, some of the restrictions on the way that dentists operate because of Covid are capable of being lifted, and lifted safely."

He added: "There are very active plans being developed under the leadership of the new chief dental officer to find ways in which safely we can restore NHS dentistry to operating conditions, where it's safe to do so, for patients where it's safe to do so, closer to those obtained before the pandemic began."

But health minister Eluned Morgan warned Wales would be "doing things differently" when it comes to the future of dental care, and dentists may only be accessible in cases where "more expert" treatment is needed.

For basic check-ups, a dental hygienist could be the first port of call in future, the Senedd heard, as part of Ms Morgan's Planned Care Recovery Plan for post-pandemic Wales.

"You may not see a dentist in the future," she said. "It may be that you'll be seeing someone different who is just as capable of finding out whether you need more expert treatment or not. This is about a really different change, a different approach."