/ Health

Struggling to find an NHS dentist?

How easy is it to find out which NHS dentist in your area can give you an appointment? We’ve found that getting accurate information can be a real struggle.

When I needed to see a dentist urgently, following an accident, a couple of years ago, I looked first on NHS Choices, the Government’s official NHS website, and got an appointment with a local dentist within a couple of days.

Turns out I was very lucky.

NHS Choices is the second most popular way that you try to find your dental options, we’ve found. But when in March we called 500 practices advertising NHS appointments on the site, a third told us they couldn’t offer us any NHS treatment whatsoever.

Frustratingly difficult to find an NHS dentist appointment

We gave them another chance in May. Maybe a new NHS financial year would make it easier to get an appointment. But the problem was actually slightly worse – 37% of the 500 practices couldn’t give us an appointment. In many parts of England, you’d have to call at least three dentists before getting an NHS appointment.

Not what you want when toothache kicks in.

We also found problems with people being asked to pay non-refundable deposits before booking, long waiting lists of up to two years, and out-of-date practice websites. A number of people were also offered private care as a speedier (but more expensive) alternative.

Time to clean up their act

None of the problems we uncovered are new. The Office of Fair Trading investigated the dental sector in 2012 and made recommendations for it to clean up its act.

And our own investigation earlier this year discovered that many dentists are failing to explain treatment options and prices.

We think too little has been done in these areas, and in access to information. We’d like the Competition and Markets Authority to look into progress to date.

Have you used NHS Choices? Did it help you find a dentist with availability, or were you turned down?


If privately run dental practices were better regulated into the prices they charge, maybe more people could afford to visit them and thereby reduce the demand on NHS dentists. I am not in favour of expecting the taxpayer to fund privately run practices but if NHS dentists could negotiate and agree to reach some sort of arrangement whereby they pass on their overload over to their private practice associates it may encourage them to reconsider the extortionate prices they charge for treatment.

CocoLoco says:
16 June 2015

The tax payer already funds the dentist’s training, so it is only right that they give us something back: that is the deal when they sign-up. I do agree with better price regulation though.

The worker says:
16 June 2015

Regulation is the cause of high costs!

Margaret Woodall says:
16 June 2015

My dentist is a NHS one and he gives me an appointment when I leave his surgery for my present appointment.

John says:
16 June 2015

I think the dentist profession has been broken for some time. The dentist’s we used to use changed ownership last year and since then it’s all about what work they can persuade you that you need done. Haven’t been back since.
The dentist we had at the practise left and started out on his own. When I asked about him I was told that he “wouldn’t follow orders”. No wonder he left. The warning sign is when you are asked if you are happy with your smile. What utter rubbish. I’m no celebrity I just want my teeth fixed so I have no pain and can eat OK.

The worker says:
16 June 2015

Asking questions like “are you happy with your smile” is in the regulations……..it is not asking would you like a Hollywood smile. You are happy, so therefore you are with your smile.

David Clark says:
16 June 2015

The problem, in my area, isn’t getting an appointment but what they do when you get there! They always want to remove ‘perfectly repairable’ teeth – there’s obviously no profit in repairs, and we the patient generally take the experts advice. A couple of my dentist friends confirm that its all about profit not saving the nations teeth!!

Joan Barnett says:
16 June 2015

Our family dentist retired last year. He went private years ago but his charges were always reasonable. The practice has been taken over by a much younger person who has kept the check-up fee the same but not including in that charge items that our previous dentist did as a matter of course e.g scale and polish. Now we are referred to a Hygienist who charges £54 for a 15- 20min appointment and all she does is the basic flossing that we all do ourselves plus a but of a scale and polish. I notice that charges for root canal etc are much more than he charged and I just feel although they are good dentists that they are in it for the money. Living in a rural area we don’t have many other dentists to go to unless you are prepared to drive to other towns.

The worker says:
16 June 2015

This where part of the confusion is. Your previous long term dentist had probably spent many years paying off his debts and set up costs. With little or no debt his fees are kept lower. The new dentists have probably had to raise 10’s if not 100’s £thousands to take over the practice. They could go bankrupt if they used the lower fees. Or they may be greedy.
Costs and Fees have to vary depending on; inner city, outer city, rural; quality of the premises decor, comfort etc.; dentists qualifications gained or studying for (very expensive), level of training dentist does to keep up to date; higher pay equals better quality of staff.
These are just some of the areas of variation and we haven’t even touched of the myriad of costs to provide dentistry.
Neither have we touched on the individual needs/ wants of each patient.
The NHS system (government/ treasury / civil servants) take none of this into consideration.
Which should be witch hunting the chiefs not the dentists.

Myself and family have never had a problem with the dentist though the scale of charges for work done are high but are limited by the NHS so that they don’t get extortionately high.

Bill says:
16 June 2015

Like any other profession greed and money appear to be driving motive and one solution could be not to allow NHS dentists to take in private patients or to provide extra frills privately. As a result people going private get immediate appointments and NHS patients have to wait weeks for an appointment.

Getting an NHS dentist seems to be a postcode lottery.

At one time I lived in an area where it was very difficult to get an NHS dentist. Where I live at present it is easy to get an NHS dentist and I am happy with the treatment I have received with two of the three NHS dentists I have used in the past 30 years. I left one because he was newly qualified and unable to give an injection without it hurting for days.

When visiting my current dental practice recently there was a sign advertising for new NHS patients.

CocoLoco says:
16 June 2015

Can’t find a NHS dentist in my area accepting new patients: been like this for over 2 years. And found that those who ‘say’ they are accepting new patients have ‘just given the last NHS spot away’ whenever I call…I feel that we should have some sort of National Insurance rebate if we have to go fully private, as after all we’re paying for those dentists to train on the provision that we will be able to get treated.

Leda Drucaroff says:
16 June 2015

I have been always careful about my teeth’s condition. But five years ago I had so many problems with my teeth, that my dentist sent me to two dental hospitals. None wanted to help, their suggestion was to pull the lot and have dentures. There was an extra problem, I had already three implants which were fixed abroad, and not brilliant.
I was lucky, in a way, that I received a compensation of £15000 for an operation that went terribly wrong and which took 4 years to repair, I should have received more, but my lawyer was more concerned about her earnings rather than fighting for my case.
At least I was more or less able to afford a private dentist, He was excellent, but the cost of the treatment meant the compensation plus an extra £1500. I don’t regret having it it done, but I haven’t recovered from that expense. I can’t quite understand why it had to be so much.

Sara says:
16 June 2015

I fly to Budapest for dentistry. I find the level of service far,far superior at a fraction of the cost and get a very cheap holiday at the same time.

Blue45 says:
16 June 2015

My dentist has been private for a number of years now and I pay a monthly fee for the privilege of seeing him and the hygienist twice a year. Reading other comments I consider the fee to be reasonable but I worked until the age of 64 and payed into the system so I feel that I, along with everyone else, should be able to see a dentist on the NHS. It is difficult to find a NHS dentist in my area unless one is prepared to travel.

Dook says:
16 June 2015

The current crop of new (30 something) dentists seem to be only interested in private patients
The concept of doing a good job also seems to have gone out of the window
I have experienced an awful lot of slap-dash work since Bliar effectively privatised dentistry, the problem being, bad dentistry can have a massive,and long-term, negative effect on ones general health
Take for example the age-old practise of removing an infected tooth and leaving the (infected) periodontal ligament in place. The gingiva soon grows back to seal the cavity leaving a warm, blood supplied, and often hugely infected cavity which can go on to spew bacteria into the bloodstrean for years. An eminent orthodontal researcher (Weston Price) once discovered 400 different types oif bacteria in one of these infected cavities.
The business of filling root canals also came under some very serious scrutiny from Doctor Price.
I recommend you look very carefully at a dentists quals before commiting.
A dentist calling him or herself ‘Doctor’ is a good start. My cat has as much entitlement to use that pre-nominal as dentists do.

Hong says:
16 June 2015

Someone recommended me to Bywood Dental Practice in Bracknell, which also advertised on-line that it was accepting patients at that time. I rang up but was told to call half a year later because they were fully booked. So, more than half a year later, I called again but was told that it was impossible to accept me because they were always fully booked. Another year later, another friend informed me to call them again because she was a regular patient there and had a good rapport with the dentist. I thought that, with her strong recommendation, I might have a chance to get accepted but failed again. In the end, I told her to approach the dentist on her behalf during her appointment there, but she gave me the bad news that they were really not accepting patients anymore. In this case, why did they not state so in the NHS Dental website? That was already more than 6 years ago!

Dave says:
16 June 2015

Been to several ‘NHS’ dentists. The reason for the inverted commas? When I need work doing, they say they can’t do the work on the NHS so I’ll have to go private or go somewhere else. Not what I thought was supposed to happen. Not sure it’s even legal… is it? Not the service they’re advertising on the big banner across the front of their building!

The worker says:
16 June 2015

Clinically necessary needs defining.
Who decides what is clinically necessary? Who decides how the remedies best fit the situation?
As I understand it the NHS definition of clinically fit is disease free and function to eat, therefore the removal of a tooth does not necessarily mean a replacement of any sort is necessary. If it is it is so that eating can take place, therefore the cheapest option to the tax payer should be offered only.
You get a denture not a bridge nor an implant.
You need root canal treatment on a tooth not necessary for eating? Cheaper for the tax payer for you to have it removed rather than spend time and money on expensive surgery.
This is the thinking behind the government NHS funding. Then tell the public you can have any treatment at the dentists.
The confusion is the public thinking they are entitled to what they think they want rather than what the government wants for you. Dentists are stranded in the middle.

Alan Dowling says:
16 June 2015

For over 40 years I had an NHS dentist in Cornwall. Then I moved to West Sussex and could not find any NHS dentists so I went to Boots where the charges were quite reasonable. Boots dentists closed and I went to The Dental Practice. When the local branch closed I travelled 20 miles to the next nearest branch. When this branch closed I was able to get into a local NHS dentist,

On returning to Cornwall I contacted several dentists that were supposedly taking NHS patients but all had long waiting lists.
During the next two years I had two teeth removed on the NHS at the local hospital – each at a charge of £18.

I have now taken out health insurance and gone to a private dentist. The prices are extremely high but I am able to claim most of the cost back on the insurance.

I have a broken tooth that I am waiting to have removed next week and it will cost me over £100. Compare that with the cost at the local hospital!

james says:
16 June 2015

I had to have a series of Crowns and Bridges on all my upper teeth a couple of years ago. I travel to Portugal a few times a year and a friend who lives their recommended their dentist. I went for a quotation for the same work as was to be carried out in the UK and it was more than 50% cheaper. I was also not charged for the quotation which was non obligatory re the work, but I did have it carried there out and am totally happy with the result. The equipment was ultra modern and XRays were available for immediate viewing on screen in the surgery.

I am still on the books of my local dentist where I go for cleaning a couple of times a year (Also in Portugal for check ups and no charge for no work!!), but I have been told that unless I go for a full check up at least every two years they will remove me from their NHS Books.

Some may say that this is only fair, but if prices were more reasonable then I would have all treatment carried out locally.

Joan says:
16 June 2015

We have a very good NHS dentist but finding one took a long time. NHS dentistry is part of the health service we all pay into and are therefore entitled to be able to see a dentist that is affordable.
I admit it is expensive to set up a practice but we need to be able to afford to have our teeth checked as it can stop us developing other more serious problems.

Maria says:
16 June 2015

I signed up with an NHS dentist after my previous 3 NHS dentist turned private. They were charging high rates but with no NHS price list on show they said that was the price and I would have to pay. I didn’t go for a year and was presented with a £350 bill. The receptionist said that was the correct price and if I felt it was too much I needed to save up before my next visit.

It was only after a friend told be what her fillings cost that I realised they were charging me private prices when I was an NHS patient – some other people were also being charged this rate.

When I complained to the Dental Authority they sent a copy of my letter to the dentist who hastily put the NHS prices up – they definitely had never been up before, and made all kinds of excuses about me wanting private treatment which was totally un true. They were made to pay back the last charge they made me pay but not for all the others. I left and found a reasonable good NHS dentist by walking in off the street. No problem here!

Maria says:
16 June 2015

Sorry, reading it through realised I had missed out a phrase. The third sentence should read “I didn’t go for a year and on my next visit for fillings was presented with a £350 bill.

Helen Birkbeck says:
16 June 2015

We moved to Thirsk six months ago and found one or two practices that said on their websites that they took NHS patients. But when we contacted them they said they didn’t. After 50 years on the NHS I now have to go private, which I’m not happy about as I rarely need much done and fear I may end up paying for work I don’t need.