/ Health

Why I didn’t visit my dentist for two years

I used to like going to the dentist. What’s not to like about getting your teeth pampered? Yes, sometimes there’s drilling, but it’s nice to walk away feeling confident about your smile. But then there’s the cost….

That’s why some years back I registered with an NHS dentist, where a checkup would cost no more than £20, and fillings would cost no more than £60.

Being able to access the NHS dental charges easily was a bonus, because private dentists can be somewhat mysterious in their pricing policies. And so, there I was, happy as Larry going for a checkup with my new NHS dentist.

Sitting back in the chair, mouth open, the dentist tapped on my teeth one by one, speaking a code to his assistant. Some of my pearly whites received a little more attention than others, resulting in lengthier exchanges of words between the two of them. Then following a quick X-ray, I was back in the chair, awaiting the verdict.

The NHS dentist’s verdict

Problem number 1: One of my back teeth wasn’t in the best of shape and needed a filling. No problem, I thought. ‘Metal or white filling?’ How nice to have the choice, I thought. The price for a white filling? £100. Not so nice.

I had thought fillings were including in the NHS pricing band 2, but sadly not for white ones. As the exchange between us continued, I began to understand that I was not just speaking to an NHS dentist – I was speaking to a private dentist with an NHS registration. And here I was being upsold private treatments and the cost that came with it.

Problem number 2: ‘You need a deep clean with the hygienist’. (My thoughts began to wander as to what a ‘deep clean’ actually meant and whether it was only intended for my teeth… I digress.)

The cost for this deep clean? £80. ‘Do I not get my teeth cleaned under the NHS?,’ I asked. ‘No, that’s just a scale and polish. If you want the full clean, you need the private hygienist,’ he replied. I reluctantly conceded.

My custom fit mouthguard

Problem number 3: Two of my bottom teeth had been worn down due to grinding my teeth. I couldn’t argue with that, as I could feel my teeth grinding as the conversation continued…

Apparently I was grinding my teeth during my sleep, and so the solution offered was to have a mouthguard moulded to the shape of my teeth for wearing night. Why not, I thought. My teeth had been feeling sensitive lately.

The cost for my custom fit mouthguard wasn’t offered up straight away. Instead, it appeared moments later on a printed out form. £250. Two hundred and fifty pounds.

When I asked the dentist to explain the cost, he said that under the NHS dental charges, anything outside of the usual treatment listed in Bands 1 and 2, is the Band 3 cost of £250.

He handed me a pen and asked me to sign. I refused and told him I wanted to think on it, and instead booked in a time for the hygienist and filling only.

Feeling ripped off by my dentist

As I walked home, I had the distinct feeling that I was being ripped off. I began to research the cost of custom fit mouthguards. Every private dentist I checked online had them at a cost of between £80-100. No more than that.

With this information in hand, I decided to do something a little cheeky. I decided to call my dentist as a new patient:

‘Hello, I wondered if you could help me. I would like to get a mouthguard fitted as I have a problem with grinding my teeth. Would you please be able to tell me how much that would cost me under your private charges?’

‘Yes of course, let me speak to the dentist’. Note that there is only one dentist at this clinic, the same dentist I had seen just minutes earlier.

‘Hello sir, the dentist has confirmed that the cost of a custom fit mouthguard will be £80.’

‘Thank you’. I hung up, grinding my teeth with anger.

My summary of the situation is that:

  • I signed up to an NHS dentist to get a cheaper price for dental treatment.
  • I was upsold a private white filling and a private hygienist appointment.
  • I was sold a more expensive NHS treatment when the private treatment was cheaper!

This is profiteering at its most cynical, and that’s why I severed ties with my dentist, like a tooth from its root. I also refused to visit any other dentist for two years, my teeth be damned.

Have you been ripped-off by a dentist? What are your dentist horror stories?


Following an accident about thirty years ago I have had a lot of dental treatment in my time, initially on the NHS, and had a combination of crowns and partial upper and lower dentures. I have always been satisfied with the actual treatment although I dislike the hygienist’s work more than the surgical operations for which pain relief is available.

After retirement and moving back to Norfolk it was difficult to find suitable NHS practices that were accepting new patients so I opted for private treatment. It seems there is no shortage of capacity if you are prepared to pay for it. Dentures do not last for ever and wear thin so replacements are required after a few years. I am now on my third set having just taken the decision to renew them and I am extremely pleased with the work of my new Portuguese dental surgeon who is probably the best I have ever had [he trained in England].

A few months ago I broke a crown [biting on a cucumber sandwich of all things!] and the recent treatment encompassed removing the fixture from my jaw [a rather unpleasant procedure but painless] and incorporating a replacement tooth in the new upper denture. Overall I have had about ten examinations and treatments in the current year including the crown extraction, some work on my own teeth, casts, modelling and fittings for the new dentures, and the final assembly of my smile!. I have spent around £2,000 on this in 2018 but apart from regular examination and treatment, if required, of my own teeth I should not have to have any major work done for some years and the latest work will possibly see me out. Averaged out over the years when I had little treatment other than a routine check-up I feel the expenditure has been reasonable and more important than many of the other things one could spend the money on. The time provided for each appointment has been much longer than the allowance under the NHS [none of this ‘fifteen minutes and come back in a week’ business], and I have definitely felt more valued as a patient than otherwise [rightly so, of course]. I can honestly say that I have enjoyed my sessions with the dentist and that the practice does treat its private patients with more respect than the ‘legacy’ NHS ones.

The practice also incorporates dental implants, cosmetic surgery and more advanced treatment specialties which are probably extremely expensive and I have no intention of availing myself of such procedures. I was pleased to see that the practice does display in the waiting room a proper notice about the charges for NHS treatments. It also provides a detailed and costed treatment plan after the initial examination.

The surgery in which I had most of my treatments is very modern [in an 18th century building] and has a monitor fitted to the ceiling – at the appropriate angle for when one is recumbent in the chair – playing, as a distraction, a loop of videos of relaxing scenes and images. All rather nice, and no horror stories [except perhaps the extraction from my credit card account].

A friend of ours who’s a Consultant Surgeon describes modern dentistry as ‘Licensed Banditry’. But it does depend on the individuals. Another friend, who happens to run a private dental practice, is very open and honest about charges.

The sandwich was home made with crusty bread, spread, and slices of cucumber which were a little on the thick side and the cucumber had a hard skin. It was the cucumber, not the crusty bread, that did the damage.

Perhaps it’s best not to store cucumber in the freezer. 🙁 Please forgive me, John.

My current dentist, Alison, does the minimum necessary and though what was a modern NHS practice is now doing an increasing amount of private work I have never been encouraged to have implants. My front teeth are in good order but I confess to having lost UR 5-8, helped by the incompetent private dentist that took over after my previous dentist had a serious accident. (Anyone who fits a crown and when it is too big proceeds to grind down the tooth opposite must be incompetent in my view.) The practice closed soon after. I would go for implants tomorrow if it was not for the rather gory process involved, and after a few years I’m actually getting on fine with the missing teeth.

I just have six month checkups. Alison offers to polish my remaining teeth but says there is no need and we skip to payment.

Dental charges do seem to be bit of a mystery.

After the last NHS dentist left, I had the option of private dentistry or nothing -well maybe a travel somewhere else if I did some research. Since then I’ve had a direct debit, beginning at £19 and currently around £23 a month and most things are done as and when necessary without an additional charge. I have had quite a lot of treatment over the years, but the security of having a dentist is important to me and he checks for mouth cancer every time I visit. The practice sends out six monthly reminders to visit. Unlike my optician, I don’t feel I’m being exploited.

Regular checkups are important and as you say, a dentist will check for signs of mouth cancer, particularly important for smokers and heavy drinkers. Eyesight checks will test pressures in each eye to detect those at risk from glaucoma. I wish GPs would all carry out routine blood tests and other health checks. High blood pressure and undiagnosed diabetes need to be dealt with promptly.

It’s a pity that you don’t have access to NHS dentistry, Vynor, but what you are being charged does seem reasonable. I saw your recent post about opticians’ charges and it makes me realise that we often don’t have a clue about whether prices for anything are reasonable.

I sympathised very much with Vynor’s comments on the cost of ‘eyewear’ as they now call it. I can only assume that it compensates for the unrecovered overheads of providing the basic NHS service of eye tests and routine examinations.

Having now recovered from the financial effects of my dental treatment I am bracing myself for the optometrist’s attentions and am anticipating even more spectacular expenditure. It is over four years since I last had an eye test and I am sensing that I shall need a new prescription and new optical appliances [i.e. glasses]. I am encouraged by reports that AMD [Age-related Macular Degeneration] can now be arrested if dealt with promptly. I hope I don’t have any signs of AMD but am pleased that testing for that and Glaucoma is now routine.

Charlie says:
19 August 2018

I detract slightly from dentistry but NHS health checks are offered to all patients from the age of 40 as part of wellman/wellwoman checks. This includes screening for diabetes and also checking blood pressure. Unfortunately many people do not attend and it has to be done opportunistically when people present for other reasons. Without any known health problems, it should be done every 5 years.

I can’t praise my dentist enough. She did my last filling as a white one at the same cost as the NHS and offered to replace all my black fillings for the same price (I declined as I’m 70 and can live with them). I visit every 18 months and rarely need any work done. When my late husband was ill, she arranged a home visit to adjust his dentures and even a 24 hour reline of one of the plates.

White fillings are not as strong as amalgam, Sylvia, so they are used for front teeth where appearance is of top priority but amalgam will survive longer in hard working molars. Any replacement of fillings will mean larger cavities, so you might have made the right decision.

I had last been to the dentist 8 years ago in London, when I needed one filling after a previous gap of 20 years. This year I thought it was probably about time for another visit to the dentist, so two months ago during a trip to Lithuania, I decided to visit a dentist for a check-up. It cost me €5 – no problems found. Bargain!

I then discovered that Lithuanians go to Belarus for dentists, as they consider Lithuania too expensive.

In general, I don’t trust British dentists. I feel it’s all about the money for them – and it’s quite serious money too. So in future I will go for check-ups every two or three years in Eastern Europe, where I know I won’t get ripped off.

I share your opinions on the British dental culture, NFH. I once attended a practice where the waiting room coffee table was covered in high-end magazines for the big yacht-owning fraternity, glamorous travel brochures, and luxury lifestyle publications. I quickly realised where their priorities lay and switched to a more modest establishment.

I am pleased that the Transylvanian dental practitioners no longer routinely implant extended canine molars as favoured by the legendary Count.

Am I to assume they speak sufficient English??

It may provide the incentive to drive their on holiday. : )

Patrick, in most eastern EU countries, people below a certain age speak good English as a second language, and people above a certain age speak good Russian as a second language. The dentist whom I visited in Lithuania was young and therefore spoke excellent English. You can almost guarantee that any highly trained healthcare professional in the Baltic states will speak good English. And the smaller the country, the better the standard of English, as they need a lingua franca to communicate, given that fewer people in the world speak their language.

Hahaha. A rip off in Asia or East Europe is actually about 1/3 the price of a Western dentist.

Yes, Alisha – but I can walk to my dentist in Norwich and be back in the daylight. He is Portuguese, speaks very good English, and provides excellent treatment.

Patrick S – I have to admit to being faintly surprised that you did not report the dentist to their regulatory body. This does not seem to be behaviour of likely to endear the profession to the public.

I doubt that the material on the coffee table would trouble the GDC, Patrick. I think the head of the practice had his eye on a particular segment of the population for his ministrations and he was pitching his service straight at it with supporting literature.

Patrick Taylor says:
20 August 2018

JW – I was thinking more about the mouth-guard, the way it was “sold” and its very high cost in relation to other private dentists charge for similar.

BTW I think your YouTube videos are very informative. : )

Sorry Patrick [T] – I misunderstood your comment and thought it was directed at mine.

@patrick – Here is some information about white fillings. Depending on the location and size of the filling, a white one may be a reasonable option but if it is large and does a lot of work it might not be a good long-term solution:

“White fillings
Where clinically appropriate, white fillings are available on the NHS and are generally charged as Band 2. For example, if you need a filling in one of your front teeth (incisors and canines), the filling material of choice may be a white filling.

If the filling is in one of your back teeth (such as molars and premolars), for a large filling the more clinically effective option may be an amalgam filling (a silver-coloured material).

Your dentist should explain the options to you in advance. If you prefer to have the white filling or any other cosmetic filling options, your dentist will be able to advise you on the private costs for such treatments, and the risks and benefits associated with it.”

My dentist went. private 12 years ago without informing us. His receptionist and nurse of many years left in disgust. Due to my very poor health my teeth suffer badly. I was medically retired before this happened and am unable to afford a dentist. How are people like myself supposed to cope? Oh yes we just suffer with the pain and eventually become toothless. Thanks Tonly Blair this is your doing!

I had two consultations at two different dentists within 6 months: one private and one NHS. The private one recommended five fillings, costing about £400. The NHS one said I didn’t need any. Still conflicted about who to believe…

I suggest a third opinion, Oscar.

I visit a private dentist and haven’t had any issues, but on the other hand my brother hadn’t been for some years after having a bad experience – pretty similar to Patrick. It put him off and he just wanted to stay away.

I visit the hygienist every 3 months and have a check-up every 6, which I think is pretty frequent – does anyone go more regularly?

I wish it was purely for a good whitening! But we have a bit of family history with gum issues – I’ve decided it’s better to be safe than sorry 😀

When I started work and a group of us rented a house we had, of course, some parties.I had access to a stock of “black light” UV lamps – mercury lamps in a Woods glass bulb, together with phosphor powder to paint decorations that glowed in the dark. It also gave most people whiter than white smiles.

Tooth whitening is considered to be safe if done properly but some of the DIY kits can contain higher concentrations of hydrogen peroxide and other chemicals, and they are not good for the gums: https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/healthy-body/teeth-whitening/

I have a crown on one of my upper front teeth. I broke this tooth at 8 years old and after some temporary crowns had a permanent one fitted at age 16. This stayed firmly fixed and gave no trouble and allowed me to bite as normal until I was 48. At which point my then dentist advised me to have it replaced for cosmetic reasons as my gums had shrunk back and the metal peg was visible at the gum line. I agreed and paid £100 to have it done. It fell out within a month and I had to pay to have it re-glued. The dentist said it was my fault it had fallen out as the metal peg was too short! And because I argued he refused to continue to accept me as a patient. I went to another dentist who suggested I have it replaced for cosmetic reasons and assured me she could do a better job as in her opinion the tooth was too long and protruded below its neighbour. I paid again. Two days later it came out while eating and I swallowed it! It was replaced free of charge this time but:- it does not fit snuggly to the gum line so you can still see the metal peg, it is longer than the tooth beside it and it is loose so I can no longer bite anything hard such as apples for fear it will come out. This was several years ago and I have not been to a dentist since. ( I am 63 now).

I think it’s worth mentioning the research on Alzheimer’s that’s recently produced a new strand of enquiry. “After decades of disappointment, we may have a new lead on fighting Alzheimer’s disease. Compelling evidence that the condition is caused by a bacterium involved in gum disease could prove a game-changer in tackling one of medicine’s biggest mysteries, and lead to effective treatments or even a vaccine.

As populations have aged, dementia has skyrocketed to become the fifth biggest cause of death worldwide. Alzheimer’s constitutes some 70 per cent of these cases (see “What is Alzheimer’s disease”), yet we don’t know what causes it.

Now researchers from Cortexyme and several universities have reported finding the two toxic enzymes that P. gingivalis uses to feed on human tissue in 99 and 96 per cent of 54 human Alzheimer’s brain samples taken from the hippocampus – a brain area important for memory (Science Advances, doi.org/gftvdt). These protein-degrading enzymes are called gingipains, and they were found in higher levels in brain tissue that also had more tau fragments and thus more cognitive decline.

The team also found genetic material from P. gingivalis in the cerebral cortex – a region involved in conceptual thinking – in all three Alzheimer’s brains they looked for it in.”

This suggests there may well be a link between gum disease and Alzheimer’s. The studies have been peer-reviewed by the journal Science Advances, and 14 of the 26 authors of the paper aren’t directly employed by Cortexyme.