/ Health

Why I love my NHS dentist

Male dentist smiling

I found my new NHS dentist so easily that I can’t help but wonder why anyone would want to go private. But maybe you’ve tried and failed to find an NHS dentist, or for some reason prefer going the private route?

I have a confession to make – I love my dentist. That sounds a bit dramatic, but it’s hard not to love someone a tiny little bit when they provide you with a service everyone had told you was impossible to find.

Having spent a shocking two years without a dentist, I finally bit the bullet and went on the hunt for a new one.

Everyone had told me NHS dentists were impossible to find, that none were accepting new patients, and that when I finally did find them they’d spend most of the appointment trying to persuade me to go private.

Instead, I used the NHS service finder tool and discovered a lovely dentist at a surgery just round the corner from my work. He was helpful, informative, and willing to do everything I needed within the NHS pricing bands.

Of course, I’ll always feel a bit stung if I have to pay a lot for work. Band 3 dental costs come in at £198 (complex procedures like crowns and dentures) and I’m reluctant to spend that much on anything that doesn’t come with a touchscreen. Still, it’s far cheaper than going private.

Dentistry in the UK has improved

In the past few years we’ve campaigned to improve NHS dentistry for patients across the UK. Hundreds of people wrote in with nightmare stories of impossible-to-find practices, and confusion over costs. But things are changing; you can now search NHS Choices more easily for a dentist that will suit you, and the government recently announced pilot tests to find better ways of providing NHS dental services.

Perhaps my experience is unusual, but it seems to me that good service from NHS dentists is more common than we might think. As well as the improvements mentioned above, the NHS directory now allows patients to comment on the service they’ve received – a good way to keep any service provider on their toes!

The websites of private practices, on the other hand, tend to feature ‘testimonials’ from satisfied customers, rather than ways to give direct and open feedback.

Why pay for private dentists?

Given the improvements, surely it’s less tempting to go private now? I know people who have considered private treatment, but were then frightened off by the prices and ended up back in the welcoming arms of the NHS.

I’ve also heard stories of people who’ve paid a fortune for private work only to have it corrected at an NHS practice later on – a thought that makes me shudder. Twice the anaesthetic and twice the pain for the same dental problem? No thanks.

So do you use an NHS dentist or do you go private? At Which? we’re all for your right to choose between the two – but either way you should get clear information about the treatment you’ll get and the amount it will cost before it starts.

Could you persuade me to go private, or have I just encouraged you to look up your local NHS dentist and give them a try? If so, good – that was my nefarious plan all along…

Doug says:
16 January 2011

Perhaps I’m lucky – when I moved to my present address some 20 years ago I found a dentist just up the road. Yes, he was NHS, but still charged.
Now I am with his son who is even better. Charges still apply – presumably less that a private dentist would charge.

Like you Nikki, I found it quite easy to find an NHS dentists when I was looking for one a few years ago. But I’ve since lapsed and probably been struck off their list, so am back in the same boat. After having toothache at Christmas it’s on my to-do list to find a new one, so I’ll report back on how I get on!

To me, it’s less about finding one, and more about will they be any good? A few people in my area have used Which? Local to make recommendations, but it would be nice to more on there. Are there any other sites where people review/recommend dentists?

Charly says:
25 January 2011

After spending 2 years at a NHS dentist (before that I was living in the Netherlands) I am now private. Hardly no one would take me on as I just moved and no place for me. I found one in Swindon and oh boy I have nicknamed her The Butcher, she wanted to pull everything out and was rude and painful, Maybe in a couple of years time I will have a look again for NHS, but for now I stick with my Private one. Too much has happened between me and a NHS dentist that even thinking about it makes me shudder and have cold sweats all over again. She fuelled my fear for dentists and slowly am trying to get rid off that.

After returning to my home town after living away and receiving good dental treatment, I registered with an nhs dentist who said I needed many fillings & a few crowns. I was surprised but trusted his judgement so had the work done. One year later and after many visits and suffering jaw/eye/ear/neck/head pain I visited another nhs dentist who advised that the crowns didnt fit properly and the fillings needed redoing because they were’nt drilled straight but at an angle and the linings were showing. I had everything redone (this was 20 yrs ago). Now I have tmj, severe sinus problems tinnitus eye pain and headaches. I’ve been under the dental hospital for 2 1/2 years (it took 5 months for lst appt), 8 appointments later (5 of them cancelled by them which I only found out after turning up) I have been diagnosed with tmj. Today I go for my first private appointment, after deciding to leave my nhs dentist ( who wouldnt do any work until I’d finished with the dental hospital). I pray that they can sort out this mess and I can finally get my life back on track.

Coral says:
13 June 2011

Does anyone know what dentists are obliged to do under the umbrella of their one off payment for work? My husband made an emergency appointment with our NHS dentist with an abscess, which she drained. She told him he would need root canal work (which he expected) and then said that if it was done there she could only guarantee 50% success rate but if he were to go privately (name and number supplied) it would have a greater chance of success! Is this ethical? Is she only being truthful or is it that she doesn’t want to undertake a lengthier procedure for a one off payment?

I had the same problem with the same dentist a few years back, I needed a crown replaced, she told me she didn’t have the equipment to remove the old crown and I needed to go private.

Has any one else been having the same problems? Are they not obliged to ask another NHS dentist to do the work they can’t?

I’ve had a NHS dentist say that to me!! His nurse scurried out after me and gave me a load of spiel about if I had a root canal privately it would be much more of a success as they order specialist equipment to do it using better materials so it would look much nicer and last a lot longer!

They didn’t see me again after that, When anyone tries Selling Spiel with me it puts me right off! When I asked exactly what specialist equipment they needed she was very vague to say the least and didn’t feel comfortable with all my questions! I know the dentist asked her to try and sell me private treatment!

Wouldn’t touch anyone like that with a barge pole

Lucy says:
20 August 2013

This is not some spiel…this is reality. Any root canal procedure only has about 60-70% success in the first instance and if this fails re-root treatment decreases to about 30% due to introduction of new microorganism species (see Harty’s Endodontics 6th ed). If you actually saw the morphology of the root canals they do not look like the cartoon picture you see in leaflets. When you have it done on the NHS with limited equipment (due to practice budgets) and time there is no possible way we can guarantee success which is why we strongly recommend a private specialist. Even with a specialist it cannot be guaranteed 100% but due to using microscopes, ultrasonic equipment and stronger irrigation solutions you have a much better success rate. The problem is we try to offer you the best options but some patients just choose to be skeptical and untrusting. When I have someone who wants me to do a re-rootfilling on a crowned tooth I shudder bc not only will I not get paid much for very difficult work (£49 is a bargain!), but it will cost other people appointments due the time it will take to actually perform something that is likely to fail anyway (ie 2 x 45 min appts in which I could probably see 10 new NHS patients).

Denis says:
15 December 2011

I used to vist the NHS dentist alot I have needed braces since a young age and recently had them fitted via the NHS, I was already very scared of the Dentist and couldnt bear the thought of braces being fitted. Anyway I went to my first appointement with my NHS dentist she seemed like a nice lady at the time but when it came to actually fitting my braces she was a nightmare, she seemed to rush the whole procedure and I found it extremley painfull; because of this I have recently “gone private” and I would never look back the service is brilliant you get what you pay for. all hail the praivte health care sector !!!!!

Meld says:
24 June 2015

Completwly agree ! Was on nhs in local town and I kept suggesting ( I was exempt due to child birth) I may have gum disease … The dentist spoke to me like dirt! Said I have no oral hygiene ! I floss and brush and use mouthwash 3 times A day! I said my gums hurt etc, he brushed it off and said no you don’t but you will loose your teeth due to gum disease in 5 years, I’ve frantically tried everything at home and they are getting worse and dreaded my next appointment as everytime I went he use to tell me how bad my oral hygiene was ! I felt terrible and ended up going home in tears!
Well no more ! Went private and yes I was right I have terrible gum disease ! Nhs was so reluctant to help me my issues is 10 times worse !!!

I wish I took the trouble to find an NHS Dentist earlier. I have just had a root canal which was advertised as £360. After treatment started, ie= the drilling out into the roots and dressing, I was the presented with a bill for a total of £665 just for the root canal, that doesn’t even include crown! I nearly fell over with shock. They have added on costs for the dressing, the temp filling and the filling…..

I have decided I’m cancelling the rest of my treatment as I want my heart to stay healthy!!! Plus there is no way I can afford it!

I’m waiting for a refurbishment of a new NHS practice and have already asked if they will finish the job!

Private dentistry is a complete rip off, and a mine field when it comes to selling!

My advice would be to play it safe, stay with NHS at least they give you a fixed cost so there are no nasty suprizes

Anthony says:
15 June 2012

I’ve recently gone private, because I lost confidence with the NHS. With the NHS, the dentists have strict time restrictions, they only get so much time for each treatment. As a result, I always found them to be rushing through each appointment. Checkups fine, but I recently needed a filling and the end result was a crude block of almagam stuffed in my tooth, with no thought to shaping it to fit my tooth – basically, because they didn’t have the time to do anything else with it,. It does the job, but just doesn’t feel right.
I therefore decided to go private, and although I wouldn’t say the dentists are any better skills wise, they don’t have the same time constraints and so do a more thorough job. Yes, it costs more, but given such a delicate & potentially painful\sensitive part of the body, I’m willing to take the hit for someone to spend as much time as they need to do as good a job as possible.

jodie says:
10 July 2012

I was with an NHS dentist in my town but he was old and the methods and equipment where also old and slow. Now I’m with another NHS dentist but in a private practise so because I want white filings my recent visit cost me almost £400 for 7 filings.
My last dentist didn’t use gloves and when getting treatments bit of tooth, water and other stuff would fly into my eyes and nose as he didn’t have glasses for me to wear. This was awful so when I signed up for my current new dentist this was one of the main questions I asked as for me satisfaction and treatment is more important then price. They even gave me 3 free filings on top of the 7 I already need.

Raymond says:
20 July 2012

NHS is a no brainer if you qualify for free treatment. I always go NHS,even though I pay, but the charging structure is crazy and they let me down today. Lost half a tooth (day before i go on holiday !), rang my NHS dentist and there was no way they could see me today. In desperation went to a private dentist over the road (fearing i’d have to pay several hundred quid for a crown). They saw me within 15 mins of me ringing. Did a large white filling (with a proviso that it would probably need a crown in the next few years but there was no hard sell). They charged me £38, the NHS charge would have been £48 (!) Maybe they took pity, I don’t know. Will probably still go for the NHS when I need a crown, but will check out the private charge as well.

Jay says:
30 July 2012

Dentist in Wales don’t get proper funding, I had a root canal problems. On the top front tooth.
A lump is on the roof of my mouth, A dentist in the hospital said it looked normal, did not do any x-rays or further tests.

I had a top rear molar tooth removed. The dentist looked young. There’s some swelling there, gone above the tooth next to it. some times hear a humming sound.

daisy says:
12 December 2012

i registered at smarts dental clinic pendlebury when i handed back the form the women behind the counter told me i would get an appointment in a couple of days never heard from them is it because i am a sixty eight year old pensioner classed as undesireable dont like the look of me

dentist says:
23 February 2013

I couldn’t resist commenting.
I am a dentist and I practice in both NHS and private.
The difference is like Lidl and Waitrose. They will both feed you.

Regarding NHS dentists “selling” private treatments: it is our obligation
to give you the option.

Regarding the root canal treatment: the single use instruments we use
in the private practice cost around £60 per root canal treatment
– this is on top of the £10,000 equipment
(NHS charge for a treatment that includes a root canal is £48). you do the maths.

I disagree that all NHS dentists are bad and all private are good – as in all professions
you have to find someone you trust.

My advice is: brush very well and often to avoid the dentist!

Lucy says:
20 August 2013

Agree wholeheartedly! I can’t stand how dentists are vilainized for trying to offer treatment for people for a condition that is one of the most preventable diseases in mankind.
I also think some don’t realize that as much as I would like to use a rotary system or use MTA on the NHS, my principal will not allow it bc it is too expensive!

SussexVictor says:
20 August 2013

Well, I couldn’t resist answering either – You should be ashamed of yourself if you are prepared to actualy admit you can’t or don’t want to provide treatment. Tax payers should get vaule for money from the state dentistry part of the NHS NOT a list of excuses. The trouble is with dentistry is that it donsn’t get the attention that hospital and GP services get so they get off with providing less that “excellent” treatment.

Also, try not to patronise critics in future. (clean you teeth…. tut tut)

SussexVictor says:
31 May 2014

I can only conclude from the number of “thumbs down” on all the negative posts here about dental treatment and also against my daring to suggest a dentist was patronising, were from dentists! Get over yourselves and start working for patients and not your sailing hobbies and expensive cars and houses.

What are the dentistry industry going to do about the historic destruction of peoples teeth by the old school dentists who ,surprise surprise ,were payed by the filling
my top teeth are an utter mess due to complete drill outs of teeth They are broken and falling out
Luckily i prevented them from touching my lower teeth which are fine and completely intact
This problem has in my opinion been covered up
I recently tried to go to another butcher to have the top ones sorted out but the utter rudeness and arrogance from all the practise members made me walk out the door
They practise “production line dentistry ” of a dubious nature and offered no treatment other than the completely wrong antibiotics and to short a course that was ineffective
My next port of call will be a lawyer so this can be thrown open to the world how bad dentist services are

well said mate, time to demand a patients charter of rights

[Sorry, your comment has been edited to align with our community guidelines https://conversation.which.co.uk/commenting-guidelines/. Thanks, mods.]

SussexVictor says:
9 July 2013

I am sorry to say that I find that NHS dentistry has NOT got better over the years (I am over 60) it has if anything declined. Let me give you an example or two. In that last 3 years it has become impossible to find an NHS dentist who will actually give you the treatment YOU want. Take a case where you actually want a replacement crown. It seems that in the 3 cases of this I know about not one NHS dentist seemed to be able to perform such a “complex” procedure for (1) lack of suitable equipment (2) qualifications or (3) a willingness to accept risk, even when asked too. I was even asked to sign that I would not complain if a treatment went wrong as I would not be able to “get a refund” on it. I was offered a single alternative of an implant at a cost of £1500 upward but the dentist was not able to do it at their surgery it would be done somewhere else. If I wanted to have some other treatment the NHS would not refer me, I had to find my own provider! So, I went private and for £1600 I not only got my crown but three restorative fillings, all the preparation of the crown and all follow up checks – Value for money I think as I am no doubt that my £1500 investment in an implant I didn’t want would have soon escalated to more in the region of £2000 plus not restorative work. A private implant being £2600 or so.

NHS dentistry is shadow of what it was and should never have been allowed to go private but like GP care should be largely tax payer funded. No wonder Americans laugh at our teeth!!

I have ground mine down with frustration at this farce.

Yes, I am a dentist. says:
27 February 2015

With all the respect (i am referring to your age and not your thoughts and opinions), you should get your facts right before you speak.

NHS dentistry is not NHS medicine. You are not an NHS patient when it comes to dentistry, you are a patient of a practice that has a contract with the NHS. Therefore, the “state dentistry” is a big discussion.

When my colleague made the “patronising” comment about brushing your teeth he was RIGHT! Most of dental problems (exclude hereditary disease, trauma and others) are caused by insufficient oral hygiene and bad diet. How many times have you read articles on the newspaper about the “bad” dentist who destroyed the poor lady’s teeth and how many articles about the correct way to brush your teeth and the foods you should avoid? I feel embarrassed when I have to explain to people your age the basic brushing techniques every day. Dental problems are preventable, but people just don’t care to find out how. There are tones of free information out there for the public. You see it’s easier to blame your dentist, isn’t it.

How much and what treatment would the state provide you if you had lung cancer and refused to stop smoking, if you were obese and diabetic and refused to eat properly. You are LUCKY that you get (some kind of) state dentistry when your oral hygiene and your diet is less than perfect!

NHS dentistry is BASIC dentistry. Its goal is to keep the public’s oral health in a good level. It was never and it will never be about the treatment you WANT. NHS dentistry can give you the treatment you NEED and in very basic levels.

Check the latest tables about the average salary of different professions. You will find that dentists (surprise surprise) is not the synonym of Bill Gates! You have NO IDEA what we have to deal with and I am referring to prices of materials and equipment, prices of indemnity insurance, people who leave the practice without paying (common thieves in other words. this is how you call somebody who receives a service or product and does not pay), ridiculous complaints from people like you etc etc. And all that for an average salary of 40.000. How many professions you know that they earn more than that?

There are wonderful people/patients out there and these people make our day and effort valuable. People who care about their oral health, who trust you and people who I am happy to provide the best level of dentistry on the NHS. I love my job and after many years in the UK I have developed a great relationship with my patients. However, every now and then, a misinformed, half-taught, misanthropist idiot (you know) will knock my door and all I can think is….

You are over 60 so you will not understand and I don’t expect you to do. I am answering to you so other people will see and don’t follow your example. Find a dentist you like (yes, not everybody is compatible your everybody), be honest with him about your needs and expectations and he will be too, trust him and he will do too. He is human and is there to help you. Most of us love what we are doing and we are very passionate about it. We experience huge satisfaction when we complete a challenging treatment and we are the happiest people on earth when we see a happy and satisfied patient. Yes, we charge for our service, but who does it for free in our days? Are there bad dentists out there? Well, are there bad plumbers, bad policemen, bad lawyers, bad farmers, bad managers? They are the minority though.

Take care of your mouth. It’s important, don’t neglect it.

This comment has been edited to align with our commenting guidelines. Thanks, mods]

Hi everyone, please can I remind you to be polite to one another and stick to our commenting guidelines.

We’re here to discuss these issues and not everyone can be expected to know the full background of every issue before commenting.

Jane says:
8 July 2015

All dentists care about is money . I’ve been 3 times for the same problem and every time they have charged me £18 90 . My dentist jeeps dragging her heels about what treatment I need .

The charges made to the nhs by practices are huge for little or no service
If you are not nhs then i suggest that all dentist remove the NHS logo from all there shop fronts
I pay huge sums in general taxation and NI contributions to cover the cost of any treatment that i might need .Greed has eroded this service beyond recognition
For you to have a good relationship with your patients must truly put you into a minority because most go out of there way to be rude as most patients dont have a choice where to go for help

[Hi Martin, your comment has been edited to align with our community guidelines https://conversation.which.co.uk/commenting-guidelines/. Thanks, mods.]

Aileen says:
25 December 2017

Mate,you give e the impression you have no idea what the NHS pays the practices.If you are a fee paying patient you are paying more that 90% percent ttowards your treatment an the NHS covers less that 10%.What do you mean by “little or no service”?Dentists are human and will treat you exactly the way you treat them.You all want champagne while paying for lemonade service.And you’re wrong about having the choice,there is always the choice of going private and most people in this country can afford it,but they would rather spend money o expensive cruises or holidays thatn on their health.

S Scott says:
31 May 2014

I recently went to a NHS dentist in the ashgate area of chesterfield. All i really wanted was my perfectly good crown cementing back in place, but the dentist decided to attack my tooth(peg) that it attaches to with a drill & grinder.He then told me that the remainder will have to be extracted. really annoyed by this because the tooth/crown gave me no trouble whatsoever ! I now wish that i had stuck the crown back on myself. When this mess is sorted out, it will be a long time before i go to a dentist again. I have lost any trust i had for NHS dentists !

I don’t believe what the NHS says about it being the same as private. As a trader, I look at numbers to see if anyone is giving me pokies. I can make you a sandwich for you for 50p or £3.50 depending on what i put in, and how I make it. I reckon it would cost about £50 quid to run a surgery for one hour paying for all the stuff, before he makes any money. At 60 quid for a root canal on the NHS, which took my private dentist about an hour and a half to do. No wonder NHS dentists are not too keen.

I think the NHS should stop pretending and be honest.

Julie says:
30 May 2015

What I want to know is why private dentist do not display their prices? What are they hiding? If I looked in a shop window, I expect to see their prices. I have never gone private because of this. Why can’t they be decent and be upfront with their prices. Can any dentist please answer this question?

Frances J says:
11 August 2014

Firstly I am not a dentist. However I never fail to be amazed and, quite frankly appalled at the number of people who fail to take responsibility for their own dental health but are happy to blame dentists when things start to go wrong or freak out when they have to pay for things to be put right. Your teeth are designed to last you for life, and they will if you look after them both by visiting your dentist and hygienist regularly AND probably more importantly by looking after them yourself in between visits. You should see your dentist and hygienist every 6 months or annually at a push; that’s a heck of a lot of brushing and flossing you need to do in between appointments. Dentists are not miracle workers. Dentistry should be preventive. Prevention is better than cure, as they say. I would imagine that by visiting your dentist regularly you are reducing (not wiping out completely) the potential for things to go wrong. Obviously things will happen now and again through no fault of the patients, even if they are following the advice their dentist gave them.

The bottom line is that dentists are in the business of fixing teeth. I feel entirely sympathetic for a profession who have studied for many years to become skilled at what they do, only to have ungrateful members of the public resent, fear and even hate them. Short term pain for long term gain!

I am afraid there will be a few rogue dentists out there who are out for all they can get. Unfortunately they exist in all walks of life and professions. Find a dentist you like and trust and follow their advice and if they tell you that you need something, take up their proposed treatment plan if you want to hold onto your teeth! I didn’t look after my teeth at all when I was a teenager and ended up requiring some pretty major work. The way I looked at it was …I caused this problem in the first place, my dentist could fix if for me. Did I pay them over £700 for the treatment? Damn right I did. I was investing in the future of my teeth and gums and although I was completely skint, I would have paid double that. I was able to pay for it over 3 years and spread the cost which many practices offer now. People spend ridiculous amounts on hair cuts and meals out all the time…I cannot believe that people would not be willing to show the same commitment to their health.

Whether it’s NHS or Private, it may not matter. Personally, I prefer to take the hit and go privately as I have a super dentist who gives me plenty of time for all appointments and has taken time to get to know me. I know the quality of the instruments and supplies will be better quality and quite frankly, I’m not prepared to gamble when it comes to my oral health. That is my choice.

Finally a quick note to Sussex Victor:- I think you should be ashamed of your attitude. Assuming dentists are only in it to fund expensive hobbies or to buy expensive cars? Why do people assume dentists are all loaded? Sure, some are. So what? If they are giving the best possible care they can to their patients and are doing their job well, good on them. They have worked to attain degrees in their field and have the right to charge for their expertise. Think about what you pay if you have to call out a plumber or electrician. Infuriating attitude. Stop making assumptions about people you don’t know.

[Sorry, your comment has been removed to align with our community guidelines https://conversation.which.co.uk/commenting-guidelines/. Thanks, mods.]

Gee_Cee says:
19 January 2015

Due to a move I had to leave our excellent dentist, who does both private and NHS work. As we were leaving the area, I felt confident I would likely get an unbiased answer if I asked him what he thought about the difference between NHS and private dental care in our new town.

His reply was that private dentistry allows more time and uses better materials, so you get better care. He added that he’d definitely go private.