Primary care trusts have been told to improve their relationships with dentists and prepare for more scrutiny of their dental commissioning.

The government this week said it would reintroduce payments per registered patient to the dental contract, scrapped in favour of payment for activity in 2006 following an independent review of NHS dentistry.

But health secretary Andy Burnham defended the introduction of local commissioning in 2006, saying the success of the new contracts, which will also include payments for quality, would rely on PCTs improving their commissioning skills.

PCT boards needed to take dental services seriously and better engage with the workforce, he said.

The review, led by Newcastle University professor of oral health services research Jimmy Steele, said dental commissioning was “often undertaken by relatively junior members of the commissioning team who have to juggle multiple responsibilities with little senior management support”.

Professor Steele, speaking after the report’s publication, called for greater strategic health authority and Department of Health scrutiny of dental commissioning.

He said: “There needs to be much more robust performance management and much more advice and support.”

He also called for greater expert involvement in commissioning and improvement in the relationships between PCTs and dentists.

There should be a dentist on PCTs’ professional executive committee, Professor Steele said.

Mr Burnham said: “Dentistry is an area that needs to be grasped at chief executive and board level, such is its importance to the public.”

He said the contract reforms would be discussed with dentists and piloted before being introduced nationally. He admitted the 2006 contract “had not made the progress we hoped it might”.

The report also recommended PCTs’ dentistry funding move to a capitation formula weighted for need. Currently it is allocated “largely on historical activity levels under old contractual arrangements”.