A MEXICAN stand-off?

Dentists on one side scaling back on NHS work or pulling out of taxpayer-funded dentistry altogether as they try to force radical reform of the funding model.

The Government, on the other, digging its heels in while promising to the voting public to "abolish all NHS dentistry charges" by 2026, and "record investment": the former meaningless if people cannot get NHS treatment at their practice, and latter somewhat disingenuous if dentists are now so reluctant to carry out and claim for treatment on the NHS that millions of pounds are going unspent.

READ MORE: Millions unspent as dentists cut back on 'unaffordable' NHS treatment

The biggest victims are the patients.

On Sunday, the Herald reported on 76-year-old Nigel Fryer, who flew to Spain to have abscessed teeth extracted rather than wait any longer for dental treatment in Dumfries.

In Scotland, 95 per cent of adults are currently registered with an NHS dentist, but many are facing long waits for NHS treatment that they can get quicker (or, at all) by paying privately, and in some cases thousands of patients are being dumped from the NHS as practices go fully private.

With four in five practices refusing to accept any new patients on an NHS basis, dental care is rapidly splintering between the haves and have nots.

READ MORE: Warning 'easily exploitable' fee model encouraged dentists to 'cash in'

Long before Covid came along, dental leaders were agitating for an end to the fee-per-item NHS model, which relied on a high volume of short appointments.

The backlogs and decay built up during the pandemic along with spiralling inflation have, they say, rendered it completely inappropriate when more patients than ever require complex, time-consuming care.

The Government seems stuck on some sort of status quo, though the current 1.3 multiplier is considered too low by dental leaders and the previous 1.7 rate liable to exploitation.

Like all stand-offs, deadlock will only be broken by truce - or mutual destruction.