/ 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with people being asked to pay non-refundable deposits before booking, long waiting lists of up to two years, and out-of-date practice websites.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?

Barry says:
16 June 2015

My very fine NHS dentist retired a couple of years ago and I was recommended another NHS dentist in the Harrogate area that was willing to take more patients. This dentist has been brilliant, the facilites are very good, the treatment excellent and the advice robust. Most of the treatment is covered under the NHS but anything extra I have deemed worth investing in. Compared to the treatment I got as a child in the 50’s and 60’s this is on another planet. The only complaint is the lack of suitable reading matter for a 60 something male in the waiting room!
Regarding salaries, I wouldn’t delve around in anyones mouth for any kind of money, thanks!

For the first time, a dentist gave me an infection, and I am sure of that! So far the doctor has not been able to clear it up and it has now been 5 months of suffering. Who can you trust now a days?

iain lovelace-taylor says:
16 June 2015

NHS pricing much to high when you only have your pension

Barry Andrews says:
16 June 2015

Just had a scale and polish(private). 30 minute job, cost £90.00’that works out at 180.00 an hour. . Outrageous. No more trips to this establishment. Am I out of date will this cost.

The worker says:
17 June 2015

Ignoring any salary for the dentist, any cost of loans/ reinvesting in new or replacement equipment, the practice where I worked had to earn £120 per hour to stand still. If the dentist were to have a salary(before stoppages) of £50k that would add £40 per hour. So £160 per hour.
More is obviously needed to be earned for breakdown/replacement/upgrade of equipment. Even more is needed if the dentist and team are to go on courses to update their skills.
£200 per hour is a very reasonable fee. The higher tech the practice even more would be needed.
The phrase “cost of everything, value of nothing ” comes to mind.

Ann Demaret says:
23 June 2015

I read your email with interest,.Obviously you are a dentist, trying to defend your profession. I do not not like your insulting comment aimed at us patients that we “know the cost of everything and the value of nothing”.
Why are there so few NHS dentist s? because of the absolute greed of dentists to turn their practices private-for one reason alone -to make more money for themselves. Every professional person has to buy their own equipment , clothes etc , update their skills for what ever job they have. You are not alone in this-so do not bleat -you are the same as all of us.
I have yet to see a poor dentist, but met a few scurrilous, money minded people who don’t care about their patients, only the money they can make from them.
Please do not expect support from patients, when you cry about all how hard done by you are -it does not cause us to feel any sympathy for you-just confirms what we have known all along-you are out to make money on the backs of us unsuspecting patients.

Simon H says:
16 June 2015

I haven’t attended a dentist for a check-up for over three years due to the cost involved. That in itself is a major issue with dentists, let alone trying to get an appointment.

I had to go for an emergency appointment and it was easy to book and got in within two days.
It cost £18. However, if I had gone to a dentist I was registered with (if I was) they would have taken x-rays etc & the cost would have risen to £40 to £50.

Rod says:
16 June 2015

My wife needs a bridge, according to the nhs web site this should be available on the nhs but she has been to four dentists who have all told her that it is too difficult to do but it can be done with no problems if you pay. I have relatives who live in Russia, they have the same problems, that’s how far we have dropped our standards.

jo says:
23 June 2015

Ros, talk to NHS England – you can email or phone – details on the NHS dentistry site, they respond quickly usually. NHS dentists are NOT allowed to offer something privately and then say they can’t do this on the NHS.. if it is clinically necessary, which it sounds as if it is. There is NO material which is disallowed for NHS dentistry – that includes all the materials used for private dentistry. The only stipulation is that the treatment is clinically necessary. The trouble is most NHS dentists have got so used to charging private rates for anything which isn’t utterly basic that they don’t even know what their own contract says. My dentist was totally unaware that if you have metal allergies you are entitled to metal free dentistry on the NHS for instance – even the manager of practise didn’t know – I had to inform them & send relevant emails which I had from NHS England!

Graham says:
16 June 2015

I have found a wonderful dentist practice The Valley Centre Dental Practice Hednesford, they both phone and E-mail my appointment one week before it is due. The service is also exceptional.

Is there a place for dentists on the Which? Trusted Traders list and for user recommendations on Which? Local?

I’m not sure if the dentist would be happy to be treated in the same way as garages, but I suppose they are mouth mechanics.

A problem with reviewing dentists is that the standard of workmanship is highly dependent on the individual dentist. I had an excellent NHS dentist but he had a serious accident. The one-man practice recruited a private dentist. He made a crown that was too large and rather than starting again he ground away the crown that was still in good condition after 40 years. Over the next year, the weakened crown deteriorated and I eventually lost the tooth. By the time I had decided to make a complaint he had gone back to Germany. If a tradesman does a poor job there are various remedies available, but it’s harder with poor dentistry.

I agree with Hannah’s comment that there are lots of good dentists. Much of the criticism seems to be about the high charges and lack of prior information about costs. Having teeth is a bit of a financial liability, even with NHS dentistry, whereas NHS care for the rest of our body costs less than dentistry for many people.

Hi John Ward,

Thank you for your question. We do indeed have recommended dentists on Which? Local. For example we have 80 businesses within London that the Which? community has recommended. Worth having a look.

As for Which? Trusted Traders we only have businesses within the home improvement and motoring sector so if you looking for a painter, heating engineer or a garage then the Which? Trusted Traders site would be of use.

Please do let me know if you need assistance getting into the Which? Local site.

Which? Local

Ann Demaret says:
23 June 2015

Brilliant idea! I support this. Also a list of the ones to avoid.

TONY Latham says:
16 June 2015

I had to private where I live in Kingston upon Thames. I was informed there were no NHS dentists in the area. All my friends go private.

Liz says:
16 June 2015

I had one National Health dentist for about 25 years – gradually I saw lots of smart new equipment coming in and thought – this place is going private (which I couldn’t afford – not on benefits or breeding like crazy) – which when my dentist retired did go private. I had stupidly when I needed treatment said pull the tooth out, because it was quicker – I now read in the press that they try to get patients to have extractions rather than fillings – which cost the same – but extractions are easier than fillings –
My new NHS dentist I found managed to loosen a bridge , which eventually fell out – so I left there.
Anyway I now only have 14 front teeth left of which 2 are caps.
Have found a new dentist – not sure if it’s NHS or Private – buts the dentist is a Scots lass – – but costs a fortune every time I go – paid £87 for half my mouth to be hygienically cleaned and mouth wash and brushes etc today. Don’t know how much implants will be.

Roland Scales says:
16 June 2015

I’ve been registered with the same dentist for upwards of 20 years as an NHS patient and I don’t have too much difficulty getting appointments.

Lorna says:
17 June 2015

I feel that one’s dental records should follow one when they change. Dentist _ as one’s medical records do.

Your mouth is your portable dental record. It tells the dentist all they need to know. The first appointment with a new dentists always includes a complete examination to identify the current state of your teeth. What I have never worked out is how dead people can be identified from their dental records if the investigators don’t know which practice treated the person. I always carry my dentist’s business card in my wallet along with a copy of my GP Registration Document [strangely the dental practice usually has a record of the patient’s GP but this does not work in reverse].

I was quite a long time ago but I was asked to arrange for a copy of my dental records to be forwarded to my new dentist.

When I first attended a new dentist after moving home I took along my previous dentist’s details but the new practitioner politely explained that that was not necessary as she would prefer to start from scratch [which she duly did]. She was a really good dentist though, not too expensive and I was sorry when she retired, selling the practice to an aggressive young man who immediately changed the signage to show that he was only really interested in expensive, primarily cosmetic, procedures. He was probably bound to carry on seeing the previous dentist’s patients but we soon parted company as his brusque manner and lectures were not wanted I wanted.

Susan says:
17 June 2015

I have had years of dental problems following domestic violence over 20 years ago – I have been divorced for a long time now but my ex-husband left me with a legacy of pain, disfigurement and considerable expense. While the practice where I have been a patient since the 1980s can usually see me reasonably quickly, the NHS dentists within it change over quite frequently and the standard is very variable. One day I arrived for an appointment and found the surgery full of angry patients and a notice saying that the latest NHS dentist (an Egyptian) had left and was no longer practising in the UK. It is not easy to have to explain the sensitive issues involved to a succession of different dentists, some of whom do not speak good English. I paid over two hundred pounds for an NHS bridge which was painful and subsequently broke, and could not afford to have it repaired. I also had a crown and post which later came out and the dentist said she could not replace it. I suspect that several teeth have been extracted which could have been saved, and am anxious to avoid her latest suggestion of pulling out the roots of others which were cracked as a result of blows to the face and later broke off. The prospect of very high costs on top of the flashbacks which still recur makes the whole business more of an ordeal that it should be.

tony waylett says:
17 June 2015

been with an nhs dentist in Epsom for years. No problems getting appointments, even in emergency. Mostly reasonable cost (by today’s standards)

Val says:
17 June 2015

I was told by my dentist that to continue being his patient I had to join the dental health scheme. I did because he was a great dentist .Now a couple of years later I have a new dentist, as the other one sold the practise. I had severe pain in my jaw and because I could not get an appointment for the ENT department at my local hospital I went to the dentist in case it was my teeth. The dentist reconked it was the roots of my teeth. This dentist then performed 3 root canal treatments, which turned out I did not need as she was surprised that the roots were not the problem. When I did eventually get an appointment to see the ENT doctor it was found I had a lower jaw malfunction, which several weeks later after doing mouth excercises the pain went. I feel totally ripped off. The dentist is always late with her appointments, even when I have the first appointment of the morning,yet if I am late I am charged or my appointment has been cancelled due to me not turning up on time.

Amanda Davies says:
17 June 2015

Really sore subject. I’ve treated dentists over the last ten years and received such a shoddy service so much so that I’m yet to lose another 5 teeth. 7 years ago my two front veneers where trashed as I suffer from abcesses. The dentist gave me 2 front crowns leaving me with a smile that’s worse than sherger the horses sister. Lost my confidence.
Found another 7 years on gave me a one tooth plate fitted so badly I had to have a very good bottom tooth pulled as the tooth wasn’t fit correct. I’m relying on Domincillsry dentists as this has lead to agarohibia. The last dentist based in Hayes left me with my lower teeth in such an aweful mess. I’m now referred to the hospital to have 4 or 5 removed. Unable to wear a plate as I have sensitive gums and a hollow palette. I really don’t know what to do. I can’t afford a bridge or implants.
All I can say is I’ve gone from a successful happy director of my own company into a recluse as lost my confidence. Shame on the NHS. This may not mean a lot to others but from a young age my parents brought me to orthodontists I’ve looked after my teeth and nick name smiler is no more. Very depressed indeed.

Amanda Davies says:
17 June 2015

Ps sorry about Grammar can’t find my readers

Sarah says:
17 June 2015

Having moved about 6 months ago, I have been unable to find an NHS dentist in my town, even though I was given the names of three dentists’ practices accepting NHS patients by the NHS helpline. I was told by one that there was an 11-month waiting list. Nearest dentists possibly accepting NHS patients are at least 20 minutes’ drive away. I am reluctant to go to a dentist at all, and especially one I know little about since the last one I saw said she’d removed a nerve but hadn’t so had to do it again and within a year I had problems with all the teeth she had treated. I did call a dentist’s in another town 6 months and explained that I had an abscess and wanted NHS treatment they said they would call back but didn’t. So I have left it and just take painkillers if pain flares up.

The worker says:
17 June 2015

If you haven’t seen a dentist how are you so sure you have an abscess?

Sarah says:
23 June 2015

Thank you for your interest – it was massively painful, but at the time I was abroad and didn’t want to go to a non-English speaking dentist so I put up with several days of agony; the pain died down, I came back and moved house etc. Now there’s a lump, which occasionally is painful, so I deduce it’s an abscess. But you’re right, it may not be.

Yvonne Van Heerden says:
17 June 2015

My husband and I had to wait five months to get an initial consultation to become new NHS patients at one of our dentists in the next town. So far, they wanted to charge my husband £40 plus for a hygienist and I was too that I have to have 2 fillings for £50 plus. No explanation, just come back then and pay before you come into my consultation room. She is VERY arrogant and she treats her patient with contempt. Not happy but what can you do!!

James.Archibald. says:
17 June 2015

NHS pricing much to high when you only have your pension, and even though I look after my teeth, they always insist at the very least that a scale and polish is also done at considerable extra cost, which is daylight robbery.

I was using a private dentist until about 4 years ago.
It was a nice practice, state of the art facility and the care was good. It was very expensive though.

I went there once for a filling after part of a tooth broke off thanks to granary bread.
The dentist put a temporary filling in place, and charged me £10 for that, and made a follow up appointment to have the temporary filling removed and a permanent filling put in, another £90.

I felt this was a con, as he might as well have just just the permanent filling in the first place.
I then stopped going to the private dentist.

I’ve had 2 checkups at an NHS dentist since then. I’m not very impressed with the NHS practice.
Each time I’ve been, I’ve seen a different dentist, both spoke bad English and I couldn’t understand them very well which didn’t help. It seems to be very quick for a checkup as well.
At the last checkup, he was explaining that he thought one of my fillings needed to be replaced. He was trying to explain it to me on the x-ray pics, but I wasn’t convinced. Regardless I booked in to have the job done (a 2 month wait!). Closer to the appointment, they sent me a text cancelling the appointment without reason, and asking me to call them to reschedule.

I’ve not done so as yet, and am now considering returning to my private dentist, concluding that you get what you pay for. 🙁

Dentists seem to think they can con everyone.they get paid for NHS course of treatment yet skip through it breaking it down to ten seperate 3 minute visits to make it look like they have been giving you thier best attention [on paper].They promote thier own private treatment at every opportunity for work which could and should be carried out on the NHS.They remind me of back street mechanics fixing things that don’t nee fixing in order to up the bill.The system needs to be changed as not everyone can afford to go private.