/ Health

Have you been left mystified by a visit to the dentist?

Teeth and dentist's mirror

If you’ve been left confused by a trip to your NHS dentist, we’d love you to share your experience. Are you clear about what your treatment will cost before you have it?

The last time I was confused by a trip to the dentist, I was living in Japan. The dentist diagnosed my tooth-pain as being related to mushiba – the literal translation of which is “tooth-worm”. On consulting my dictionary, I was very relieved to find out that mushiba is nothing more sinister than the Japanese word for tooth decay!

The rest of my treatment was fairly straightforward – language barriers aside – I knew how much the treatment would cost, roughly how long the treatment would take, and who my dentist would be.

Does your NHS dentist offer the treatment?

Some people have reported problems with their NHS dentist not fully communicating options or prices. For example, people being left unclear on the difference between private and NHS options, unsure how much treatment would end up costing, or paying for private treatment they didn’t know they could get on the NHS. Z Stiles told us about her husband’s treatment in 2012:

‘My husband was told he needed bridge work and was not advised that this work was available on the NHS. We became concerned that we had been charged privately for work that could have been undertaken on the NHS had we but known. The upshot is we ended up paying £1260 for work which under the NHS fee bands would have cost us £209. We are gutted and wish to seek compensation from our dentist.’

Your NHS Dentist is required to provide you with the cost of your treatment prior to delivering it. But some of your previous examples have shown this isn’t always what happens in practice. John told us:

‘At our dentist there are no prices shown nor do we ever get an itemised receipt. From time to time I get asked about payment when I’ve already paid so always keep my receipts. Where else would they get away with this? Imagine going into a supermarket and never getting an itemised receipt !’

Caught out by the hygienist?

Lots of people don’t realise that if they have a clinical need for the hygienist then they are entitled to a scale and polish on the NHS. So they end up paying for it privately.

A particular issue we’ve heard about is an NHS dentist referring patients to the private hygienist because they say it is better quality than what is offered on the NHS. Dentists are not allowed to do this under their NHS contract but some people still report situations like this:

‘My dentist practice has changed ownership. I am an NHS patient and for a check up I was presented with a bill for £37 – £20 more than the NHS cost for a check up – Band 1 treatment. I asked about this and was told that the hygienist was better qualified than required and provided a better service. I did not pay as I had not been told about the costs before I had the treatment – but it’s clear that I would be expected to pay the additional cost in the future.’

Do you have any similar recent experiences? You don’t need to disclose your dentist or practice at this stage but we’re keen to gather examples for developing our work in this area.


A few years ago, my practice went private without the option of NHS treatment. Everywhere else did the same and nowhere locally would take NHS patients. It was a case that if I wanted a dentist, or to keep my own dentist, I had to sign up. This was with Denplan. More recently,my surgery seems to have quarrelled with Denplan and have set up their own dental insurance, again with the option to sign up or to leave. I still have the same dentist and still get the same treatment in the same surgery. I don’t feel like a private patient, though they have painted the waiting room and put a telly in, permanently switched to BBC 1. My fee is decided by the risk I pose to the dentist and how much he thinks I need his help. Thus, for a set fee I get any treatment I need, though waiting times are just as long for non urgent appointments. With this kind of agreement the practice can charge what it likes without an itemised breakdown of the cost of materials and labour. I have no idea if I get value for money, but I need my dentist and I think he needs me which I hope is some kind of a check or balance. Dentistry was far from free under the NHS, I remember bills of over a hundred pounds coming my way for a service that was free at the point of delivery. C’est la vie.

Carol Jonson says:
25 January 2015

I have been going to my dentist for over 20 years and moved in 2003 to a town about 30 miles away. I tried to find a dentist but no dentist was taking on NHS patients and all said I would have to sign up to what I thought were costly monthly plans. I decided to stay with my dentist (he has been excellent) and travel to the practice.
About 4 years ago my dentist told me the practice was being taken over by Oasis but that I could still see him and the hygienist. Changes began immediately, renovation, a much larger reception desk and many more part time receptionists. Also I was given many forms to fill in regarding my medical history and all medications that I was taking.
I did not mind this. However on my next visit I was charged double the price £35.00. I was not happy about this and when I asked at the reception why this was I was told the prices had been separated at £17.50 each for dental check up followed by the hygienist. I was nor happy at this but nothing I could do about this. Worse was to follow. For a couple of years I paid £35 for each visit even though by then I was only having a check up once a year, I was still charged £35 for each four monthly visit to the hygienist. Then last May I went for my double appointment (check up and hygienist) was was charged £53.50!!!!! I was in shock and having had a heart attack the previous year was not in good health. When I queried this I was told these were the new prices and that I could not have the dentist check up and clean and polish as I had had a bridge fitted many years ago and needed the hygienist for this.
I have never been told of any price increases nor are any prices displayed anywhere. All there are are adverts for cosmetic dentistry.
I saw my hygienist in November and I asked her why all these price increases and she told me Oasis was not making any money from NHS hygiene so that now is private. hence £18.50 for the check up and £35.00 hygienist totalling £53.50. She told me these prices would go up at the end of April. Oasis have been very underhand with their charges and if I could find an NHS dentist where I live I would leave.
I did ring the NHS helpline and they said they would find me a dentist out of the area I could attend for one year only. Not very satisfactory. So for now it’s back to Oasis in May for another expensive treatment.

Paula p says:
24 February 2015

I have been having appointments with hygienist for a couple of years.
I was informed I needed the treatment and I could have it on the nhs but this would involve being referred to liverpool hospital (I don’t live in Liverpool) or I could pay private at my local practice. Going to Liverpool would mean taking half days off work where my local dentist can provide more convenient time slots to fit with work, so I felt paying to stay local was my best option. I was not offered nhs treatment in my practice.
Also I have to pay for all my treatments, check ups included three month in advance.

Felix Ellison says:
13 May 2015

I’ve been attending the same dental practice for well over 20 years now, I had no problem with the practice, I normally attended for a routine tier 1 treatment (Scale and polish) which cost £18,50 every 3 months. Then last year they were taken over by the Midland Smile Center (MSC), Then I started to notice that my routine tier 1 treatment had been cut back to once every 6 months. Then on one of these occasions I was informed that the cost of my treatment as changed, it will now cost me £40 for an assement and £18.50 for a tier 1 treatment. They tried to sell me a plan which would cover the cost of the treatment. When i asked them if they are still providing NHS treatment they said only to people with families and people who are on state benefits.

I have been attending the same dental practice for more than 5 years, I chose it because it was on a university campus and I assumed would be regulated by the university.
I have been going for a check-up every six months but never once have my teeth been scaled or polished by the dentist. I assumed this was because I had changed to using an electric toothbrush which was doing an excellent job. However recently one of my teeth has come loose and is floating around in my gum which swelled up alarmingly though went down again in a couple of days. I assume this is the result of gum disease. I ask myself is it worth going back to see a dentist.
I have never seen any information about charge on display.