/ Health

Open wide please – the results of dentistry’s check-up are in

Teeth and dentist's mirror

The ‘dentist’. Just that word can send you into meltdown – whether it’s fear of the pain or the cost of the treatment. Yet we also know that some of you love your dentist, and are very happy with the treatment you get.

There are three set cost bands for NHS dental treatment. But most high-street dentists in the UK provide both NHS and private treatment – so things can get confusing.

Our own research has found that people don’t really shop around for dentists – and that’s hardly surprising given that it’s hard to find private treatment prices that you can compare easily.

When my practice had a big shake up a few years ago, I was duly informed that to keep my dentist I had to go private. I obliged and made the switch.

After a painful bill a couple of months ago (£350 for two fillings to be replaced) I decided to get on the waiting list for an NHS dentist. I’d managed to get my boyfriend on it pretty easily last year. He was on the list and signed up in around three months. But it looks like I could be waiting much longer. In the meantime, how do I know what a reasonable price is?

The dental market

The Office of Fair Trading (OFT) has today called for changes to the UK dentistry market after it has found that it doesn’t always work in the best interest of patients. Echoing Which?, they found that patients don’t always have the right information at the right time to make informed decisions about their choice of treatment.

Amongst other things, the OFT also recommended that the process of complaining to your dentist should be simplified to make it easier for patients and dentists to resolve complaints.

I spoke to our dental expert, Rebecca Owen-Evans, to ask her view on the OFT’s report:

‘We’re pleased that the OFT has called for more clear, accurate and timely information for patients, and support moves to make this happen. Whether they’re going private, NHS or a mixture of both, all patients should know the facts about their treatment – including the cost – before it starts’

Dental treatment plans

Despite my desire to get on the NHS list, overall I’m happy with my dentist and the service she provides. She always gives me a printed price plan and I rather weirdly love the visual of my teeth and the relevant dental work sketched on the plan.

A few friends have looked bemused when I’ve mentioned this to them in the past and it’s got me wondering if all dentists actually provide their patients with a written treatment plan – does yours?

So, are you happy when you leave your dentist with a gleaming smile? Or do you feel like you’ve had little choice but to part with your cash?


My dentist has changed dental chargers my last visit was to replace a filling, i was in the chair less than 2 minutes, no injection and was charged £46!!! I was mortified, I am unable to work and claim disability living allowance and they wanted half of it for 2 minutes work. They didnot inform me of the bands they now work on so now they wont see me till it is paid. I am petrified of dentists from being young, they were so caring i felt at ease with them, now i need treatment and dont know what to do. I would be gratefull for any advise.


Dear Susan

Thank you for your comment.

I’m not sure whether you had NHS or private treatment this time, but the standard NHS treatment cost for a filling in England is £48 at the moment. Charges differ elsewhere in the UK.

Lots of people are entitled to help with their healthcare costs. To find out if this applies to you, you can visit http://www.nhs.uk/NHSEngland/Healthcosts/Pages/Dentalcosts.aspx

If you’re unhappy with the experience you’ve had, you can also complain about your dentist – please see our guide at http://www.which.co.uk/consumer-rights/making-a-complaint/how-to-complain-about-your-dentist/

I hope this is helpful for you.

Adentist says:
29 June 2012

People assume the patient charges on the NHS reflect the work done. The charges are tax collections and have been laid down by government. The dentist is required to collect this tax, irrespective of the time taken, complexity, or cost of materials. Dentists receive payment from government in a similarly crude way. There are some circumstances where the cost of providing treatment is less than that received, and others where costs often exceed payments.

The balancing act for dentists is making sure these even out, otherwise they will become bankrupt, and will be unable to provide any treatment. So those with high needs will tend to push the practice the wrong way. Those with high needs tend to be those who neglect their mouths, only attending when in pain. Those on lowish income just above the exemption level where treatment tax becomes payable, often leave treatment as long as possible. By this time the damage may be so great that the treatment tax collectable is over £200 (and the cost of treating several hundred pounds over that provided by government, and has to be found by the dentist).

It is rare that the patient charge(tax) exceeds the cost of treatment, so generally NHS treatment is a good deal, even though it is unlike medical treatment, which is free at the point of delivery.

Mike Browninton says:
16 April 2015

£48 on NHS wow that’s a lot, why not free


Dentistry does seem expensive considering that NHS care of the rest of our bodies costs nothing for most people and the cost of prescription drugs is capped for anyone who takes advantage of prescription prepayment. Eye tests and glasses are relatively inexpensive unless expensive frames etc. are chosen.

Z stiles says:
30 May 2012

My husband was told he needed bridge work and was not advised that this work was available on the NHS (we are NHS patients). New to the NHS practice having finally been able to get in with an NHS dentist we were unclear on the way things worked. We assumed that complicated work such as this was only therefore available privately (unless you are on benefits or a low income and then qualified for NHS treatment). After seeing the OFT report 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.

Adentist says:
29 June 2012

I can understand how you feel.

There are several dilemmas for your dentist. As you are aware the cost of your treatment was around £1260, which means that your dentist would have to find in the region of £960 to subsidise your treatment after receiving the NHS contribution. Where is this to be found? He could provide less treatment for 10 to 20 other people and try to makeup the shortfall.

The dental contract expects that all necessary treatment be carried out, but you can probably work out that there wouldn’t need to be many high needs patients to destroy a practice. The real problem lies with government’s unworkable contract which pits patient against dentist, as the former understandably wants the best deal they can obtain, and the dentist trying to maintain a viable practice.

You will have to decide how you want to play it.

Andy says:
1 June 2012

I must be one of the lucky ones! I live in a small town where 2 dentist practices are advertising for NHS patients. My 3 children live in a larger town, no NHS dentists available. My children have been registered with my dentist. A round trip of 18miles for any appointments. Why is there such a difference in availability in such a small area? Is this the same across the UK?

Michael says:
2 June 2012

On retirement in 2010, relocated back to Yorkshire. Impossible to find an NHS dentist even operating a waiting list, within a 10 mile radius of my location. (Via NHS on line listing). No option but to go private, but I am seriously annoyed at the lack of NHS places. Why, when I and my wife have paid our NI contributions all our life do we have to resort to private treatment?

Fred says:
4 June 2012

As a practicing dentist, I completely understand the frustration felt by those unable to get the treatment they need on the NHS. As usual it’s the dentist who gets all the blame. It’s not just our fault! I am deeply unhappy with the current NHS contract. which was forced on us in 2006 by the then Labour government. I have been involved in the training of newly qualified dentists for the past 12 years. This year I was not selected to be an “educational supervisor”. This means that I will lose one third of my practice’s NHS activity over the next year as the foundation year funding comes from a different “pot”. I applied to my local Primary Care Trust for some replacement NHS Units Of Dental Activity so that I could keep my outgoing dentist on. I was told in no uncertain terms that there would be no more available. I will therefore be a dentist short, and will be unable to traeat all of my current NHS patents within the NHS. Many others are in similar situations, and young dentists are finding difficulties in finding new NHS jobs as the contract put a cap on the activity levels and the funding. New entrants cannot get a foot in the NHS dooras the number of dentists starts to rise following the opening of 2 new dental schools. Many UK graduates will have to look overseas for jobs and yet EU dentists not required to do the Foundation Year Training are choosing to do so, and taking up the places so badly needed by UK graduates who cannot work in the NHS until they have completed foundation training. The whole thing is a complete mess which was started by the government, so please don’t blame the dentists, we are as frustrated as you.


If practising dentists are being blamed for the cost of NHS treatment then it may be useful to publicise the NHS charges for dental work.


Are dentists always practising, or at some stage do they become qualified?
Now to serious stuff. I saw my dentist today as an emergency visit. She is a young Greek girl (not a British citizen). She looked at my painful tooth and swollen gland; I said I had a bad headache too. She had a quick look and said ‘It has to come out’. Oh not another one I thought; and suggested maybe we could try anti-biotics. Eventually she agreed.
When I asked her about other possible treatments, she explained that my tooth was too bad to replace / have bridge work etc. (What is bridge work?). I do not understand this. Also I do not know what treatment, as being in receipt of Pension Credit, I am entitled to.
Are there any publications or web sites that explain ALL the ins and outs. Getting any comprehensive information nowadays is like pulling a tooth. Ouch!

joyk says:
14 June 2012

I went to an NHS dentist today for a check up and was asked if I would agree to pay independentely. I queried this as I wished to remain on the NHS. I was told the treatment and the cost would be the same, even if I needed other treatment at a later stage but that it would let them treat more people within the NHS if I agreed. I repeated that I didn’t understand why I was being asked to use a different system if everything was the same. Was told they could treat more people who couldn’t afford treatment if I agreed. I said I was on my pension too and wanted everthing even if I may need other treatment on the NHS. Not completely sure of the outcome. How do I know why he was offering this and if what he was offering was correct I really felt under pressure to do as he asked. Surely this can’t be right.

Dentist X says:
26 June 2012

I feel in many ways that today’s dentistry is part of another era. We saw it with most of the products available out there; there used to be little shops, and now it is all streamlined and centralised in big shops.
There are practices out there which are badly organised and a lot of time is waisted, that time is then paid for by the patient. I believe that we will see clinics where the whole patient journey will be streamlined, each stage of the treatment would be done as efficiently as possible, and by doing this the cost of private treatment could be pushed right down without any compromise in quality.
Clinics like this do exist accross the world already. It will only be a question of time before large clinic take over, just like supermarkets took over the small shops.
Patients do struggle to fund private dental care, and one way or another the costs will need to come down.
Please let me know your comments.