/ Health

Private dentists – are they saints or sinners?

Dentists peering down on patient

Is it right that private dental prices can vary by hundreds of pounds? Not only have we found huge price differences, treatment charges aren’t always displayed clearly. Are you a fan of private dentists?

We’ve heard from lots of people sharing their experiences of private dentists, from smiling saints to sneering sinners.

One woman’s smile makeover brought in quotes all the way from £12,000 to six times that, but many have been eager to laud their dentists for fair practice and pricing.

When we investigated private dentistry last year we found that their prices varied wildly. We sent mystery shoppers to 423 private practices – they discovered you could pay anywhere from £250 to £518 for a basic crown.

The treatments included in a check-up varied too, with 56% of practices including the cost of an X-ray and just 19% a scale and polish. So it’s really important to find out what the price of your check-up involves before you get in the chair.

What’s worse is that these prices aren’t always displayed clearly, with our mystery shoppers finding that only seven out of 40 practices showed their costs at the surgery.

Another issue reflected by our postbag is how difficult it is to know the quality of the treatment you’re getting, since problems can take years to show up. Some people have even expressed that they’re happier with treatment they’ve had abroad.

So what do you think? Are private dentists heroes or villains? And – especially as more of us sign up for cosmetic treatments – how can we know what quality we’re getting?


For many years I was a patient of a NHS dentist and found the service to be generally good. Around 3 years ago the practice decided to join the private sector as they were the same dentists I decided to stay. Other than regularly paying sums of money which at first was reasonable, but each check up after 6 moths was more than the previous one I seemed to have a bad breath problem most of the time which was offensive to others although I cleaned my teeth regularly and also went to their hygeniest. Between check ups a crown cracked that they had put in some 18 months prior at a charge of well over £100.00 a porcelain one.

My daughter attended a NHS dentist who fixed a brace for her prior and cured a problem she had, so I asked if the same dentist was accepting new patients and they were. When he did a routine check up he informed me that the tooth with the broken crown was rotten and the one next to it was and both needed to come out. After that the bad breath dissapeared along with the discomfort
and my bank account has a little more money in.

My wife and I have in the past used some good but expensive private dentists but in our experience are few and hard to find. Our advise to everyone is if you have a good NHS dentist stick with them as with a lot of private ones they just have a licence to take money from unsuspecting patients.

Like most of these things – There are good and bad dentists – in both sectors.

I used to belong to the Society for Advancement of Anaesthesia in Dentistry (SAAD) – I used to train Dental Nurses and design Dental Clinics in the 1970s – and heard of terrible practices – poor quality free surgery in the NHS and poor quality expensive surgery in the private sector.

t.o.watson says:
24 October 2011

When our dental practice divided into NHS and Private a few years ago, when the “new dentists contract” came into being, I opted to stay with the Private sector.

I really appreciate the interested, intelligible explanations I am given, and am always shown X-rays.
There’s no doubt that I now continue with better dental care, myself, than previously, – respecting the preventative advice given.

I see the greatest problem with NHS payments is the sad way that the dentist can so speedily do a small part of work needed, and sign off “work completed, see me in 6 months, pay at the desk” . Then in 6 months repeat the very same “consultation”, – never at any time doing ALL the work needed. The patient belives all is well. Time will eventually show that it isn’t.

My girlfriend had Implant dental work done in 2006, The dentist only did the lower jaw but she was charged for both upper and lower jaw. The dental work started to fail just over a year later. she has been to most of the major dental hospitals in the country who use Nobel Biocare. as it is not comenly used in dental hospitals in Cheshire. she has been informed that the implants are Not fit for purpose, and are the wrong prescription. Trying to get any legal help was impossible, very few solisitors will take a private dentist on as one informed her. They have too much money and they would keep it going beyond the three year time limit, Unfortunetly she did not find out what the problem was untill after that date. We feel there should be a binding contract, between the dental manufacture, the dentist, and the patient. who is parting with a lot of money, and also the money should only go to the dentist in stages as the work is done. not all in one go. My girlfriend had to give up work and will probley never work again. she has a very bad digestive disorder and lives on Ensure Plus liquid drinks, she can not chew food, and its effecting her speach. she has lost a dramendose amout of weight. and has been diognosed with secondary post traumatic stress disorder. We can not see away out of this. she can not afford treatment to remedey this bad workmanship. Nobel Biocare as they clearly point out sell products to dentist, a sort of take the money and run. they have no techeical surport, and do not have a good working relationship with Leeds dental hospital as we have corrospondence saying this. The treatment at Sheffeild teaching hospital is going to cost £25.000/£30.000 . but as she has already got a debt relef order and has no income. our children and I are just watching her deterate. There are more Cowboy dentist around than most people realise. We feel that before anyone has exspensive dental work done, first see a few dentist, check to see if they have any legal claims against them, check that they are registered, but find out what if (implants), the nearest major teaching dental hospitals use. As Manchester dental hospital only use AstraTech. they can not help if anything goes wrong. if you live in Cheshire. you will have a lot of travelling finding another hospital that use say Mobel Biocare. We don’t know how long we have. She has a very good GP who has been a great help with her medication, but she will never be the person she once was. I never thought a dentist could do so much damage to a family like mine. This goverment and the dental council protects dentist like the one we were unfortunet to meet. A Nobel Biocare dentist based in Hale Cheshire. his dental nurse told my girlfriend when she asked for the diferent size screws, that he removed from her implants. he said he gave her in screws. Its amazing it took him three weeks, to deside it. when he never gave her any screws. and he knows it.

Our local dentist became a private practice a few years ago and we continued to go as they offered NHS treatment to children. On my child’s last visit I was pressured into taking him to their hygienist for a scale and polish at £22. I have compared notes with other local parents and find they similarly have had a hygienist appointment thrust upon them. We have now decided as a group to refuse next time and not be manipulated or feel guilty. Should a scale and polish form part of our children’s NHS care? We are sure this used to be the case.

Murram says:
6 November 2011

My experience has been similar to that of digitalgenius, the first comment above.

I was with a dentist for many years but he retired and the practice was taken over by a new dentist. He seemed to be doing a good job so when he decided to go private I was persuaded to stay with him. He then introduced a hygenist who undertook much of the work that he had previously done, but as the dentist was still checking my teeth on each occasion I did not see this as a problem. He then moved to a new purpose built building at a location that was less convenient, but as I could still get there I was again persuaded to stay with him.

The next change was to alter the payment system from everything being covered by the monthly direct debit, to only the twice yearly check up being covered by this same payment. Any work done would be payable at private rates minus 10%, but no examples of these private rates were provided. As I had not had much work done previously I did not see this as a problem, so again I was persuaded to stay with him.

I then noticed that I was only being dealt with by the hygenist, with the dentist appearing for a quick “Is everything ok?” and then he departed without doing any of the checks that he had previously done. Eventually these quick visits ceased and I only saw the dentist when work needed to be done. It was only when I actually needed some work doing that I discovered that the 10% reduction was from an exorbitant initial charge.

My wife broke a tooth and it was suggested that this be resolved by having a cap installed on the tooth. Unfortunately the grinding down to good material was not done properly so she got an infection in the tooth, under the cap. A specialist was called in to do this work and much to our amazement we were charged for this treatment. As the job had not been done properly in the first instance we had assumed that this would be covered by the original payment, but apparently not.

This was the last occasion we visited this particular dentist and we are now back with a NHS dentist, our teeth being checked by a dentist instead of a hygenist, and we pay very much less for a perfectly satisfactory treatment. Our experience with private dentistry is that they are in it for the money and the needs of the patient take second place to the requirement to make as much money as possible from us. The originally good NHS dentist slowly degenerated into a greedy dentist who was only interested in people who wanted expensive treatments such as tooth whitening.

RAEM says:
17 April 2014

I have just been quoted £144.50 for a dental hygienist appointment and a routine dental check up at a private practice in Oxfordshire.

This seems to me very expensive, how does this compare to other prices?

Private in London says:
30 June 2014

@RAEM. that is very close to the £144.25 which i was quoted today for a hygenist( £90) appointment and dental checkup ( £56.25), in Belgravia London

I have just had my annual (private) check-up. My dentist has decided that I need a scale and polish ,done by him and that 12 weeks later I should have a session with the hygienist.
This seems over the top to me. Is there any evidence that all that scraping does any good? Did I not read in Which that some authorities claim that plaque reforms within 48 hours? Does anyone know if polishing does any good, is it cosmetic or just it serve some other function?
I now feel my dentist has some sort of income per patient target now that the surgery is part of a large chain and I no longer feel the treatment he is recommending is what I actually require to keep my teeth and gums healthy.

Dr T Watson says:
7 August 2014

My dental practice of 4 divided into 2 remaining in NHS and 2 using Denplan, when the last “reorganisation of dental pay structure” began. I moved, with my own dentist, away from the NHS care…..BECAUSE……a) it had become clear that the majority of out-of-hours-emergency-calls were for patients being treated by the 2 who remained with the NHS;
b) the NHS patients were having to pay for “treatments” which were uncompleted work, and then having to come back for more “treatments”, and paying again. Each time the NHS was forking out for incomplete work, claimed for by such dentists. It was, for the latter, VERY lucrative !!

The very high standard of dental treatment I now follow is resulting in an excellent life-long oral and dental health.