The government launched a £100m, two-year NHS dental strategy this week - but it will not stem the tide of dentists leaving the NHS for private practice, say dentists' leaders.

The British Dental Association said the strategy, which promises to make NHS dentistry available to 2 million more patients, contains no new ideas and does nothing to reverse years of underfunding.

Launching the strategy on Monday, junior health minister Lord Hunt repeated prime minister Tony Blair's 1999 Labour conference pledge that universal access to NHS dentistry would be secured by September 2001, with 50 new dental access centres in place by April next year.

Lord Hunt also said English health authorities would be given new powers to sign deals with primary care trusts, private and independent sector dental organisations and individual dentists to provide NHS treatment.

HAs will also be given more powers to improve access to NHS dentistry and monitor the performance and quality of dentists, who will be offered access to a£28m fund to reward those committed to the NHS.

Patients will receive new itemised treatment plans and receipts so they can be sure exactly what treatment they are getting and whether it is being supplied by the NHS or privately.

The BDA said the creation of dental access centres 'makes good sense'. It was also pleased with a promised expansion of the role of NHS Direct, which will be used to direct patients to NHS dental services.

But it said the£100m promised included£40m already announced earlier this year and Mr Blair's pledge of universal access to NHS dentistry by September 2001 'would only be achievable if HAs use their new powers imaginatively and effectively'.

John Renshaw, chair of the BDA's executive board, said: 'We will be pleased if the new strategy helps improve access for some patients.

However, unless the government addresses the grave funding crisis in NHS dentistry, dentists will continue to leave the NHS and there will be no hope of permanent recovery. '

Dame Margaret Seward, former president of the General Dental Council, will join the Department of Health to implement the new strategy.

Lord Hunt said dentists had made a significant contribution to the NHS over the last 50 years and the strategy offered a 'golden opportunity'to take the profession forward for another 50 years.