How much can you expect to pay for dental care in the UK? Compare the services offered by an NHS dentist with a private dentist, get to grips with NHS dentist prices and more with this guide to UK dentistry.
Dental care in the UK is widely available to expats. However, there is often confusion as to whether expats can claim treatment under the UK’s National Health Service (NHS). In fact, most dentists provide both NHS and private care; it’s a case of finding out what treatment is available under the NHS and what isn’t.
Unfortunately, the standard of dental care in the UK has come under scrutiny lately. The NHS is under too much pressure in the United Kingdom, which can lead to substandard service. Some people simply prefer to take out private dental insurance and go down that route, as they believe they get better care with less waiting times.
COVID-19 in the UK
The COVID-19 pandemic has been a difficult time for everyone. Many expats find themselves separated from family and loved ones in their home countries. As a foreigner, it is also sometimes difficult to find critical information regarding coronavirus infection rates, local measures, and restrictions, and now, thankfully, vaccinations. For general coronavirus health information in the UK, including vaccination schedules and locations, visit the NHS Coronavirus (COVID-19) website.
For official COVID-19 measures, rules, and restrictions in the UK, consult our guide on the COVID-19 pandemic in the UK.
Standard of dental care in the UK
The UK works hard to maintain high standards of dental care. To practice any type of dentistry in the UK, all dentists and dental care professionals must register with the General Dental Council (GDC). The GDC publishes standards that all dental professionals need to adhere to. You can download the Standards for the Dental Team book here. You will also see the nine principles all dental professionals need to adhere to, from putting the patient’s interests first to having a clear and effective complaints procedure.
Despite this, the NHS in the UK receives a lot of unwanted publicity as of late; hospitals and health centres are understaffed and overworked. News publications over the past year have highlighted that there is a big problem in terms of accessing dental health care under the NHS. NHS dentists have complained that the system is unfit for purpose, with people going long periods of time without seeing a dentist. The NHS argues back, pointing to a survey they have conducted, which shows that every nine in ten people have seen a dentist in the last two years when they have wanted to.
Needless to say, you won’t experience such difficulties in booking an appointment if you go down the private route. More and more people are taking out private health insurance so they can benefit from better access to dental care, reduced waiting times, and better care overall.
Should you choose an NHS dentist or a private dentist in the UK?
You are able to access an NHS dentist as an expat. However, you will need to pay for treatment. The main difference between an NHS dentist and a private dentist is that NHS dentists only provide treatment that is clinically necessary to maintain and protect good oral health. This means any treatment necessary to keep your teeth, mouth, and gums free of pain and healthy. For example, this includes bridges, crowns, and dentures. Cosmetic dental treatment, for instance, teeth whitening, are only available via private dentistry practices.
Most dentists in the UK provide both private and NHS treatment. If this applies to your dentist, make sure you are aware of which treatments are only available privately and which are available on the NHS. You should also find out how much your NHS treatment and any private treatment will cost.
NHS dentist prices
Only a small number of people are entitled to see an NHS dentist for free in the UK. This includes:
- Those named on a valid HC2 certificate
- Anyone named on or entitled to a valid NHS tax credit exemption certificate.
- Those receiving Income Support
- NHS Hospital Dental Service outpatients
- People stating in an NHS hospital whereby the hospital dentist carries out the treatment
- Anyone who is pregnant or who has had a baby within the past 12 months
- Full-time students under the age of 19
- Anyone under the age of 18
If the above does not apply, you will need to pay for treatment. The NHS has a three-banded system. This is as follows:
For £20.60, you will receive an examination, diagnosis and expert advice. This can also include planning for further treatment, a scale and polish, and an X-ray if deemed necessary.
Band 2 covers all of the treatment in Band 1, as well as additional treatment, such as extractions, root canal treatment, and fillings. This costs £56.30.
Finally, there is Band 3. This covers the treatment available under Bands 1 and 2, as well as more complex procedures, such as bridges, dentures, and crowns. This costs £244.30.
You don’t have to pay a dental charge if your dentist has to stop blood loss, you are having stitches removed, or your dentures are being repaired. Moreover, dental charges are reviewed annually, and the charges above are correct as of April 1, 2017.
If you require Band 2 or 3 care, your dentist should provide you with a personal treatment plan beforehand. This should detail the treatment, as well as the costs entailed. Read it and sign it before any care commences.
Charges for seeing a private dentist in the UK
There are no official guidelines regarding the cost of private dentist treatment in the United Kingdom. Each practice sets their own fees, so compare prices before booking an appointment. Most dentistry practices only have a price list for simple treatments; they then give you a quote for any work that is more complex. There are a number of ways to pay for private treatment. Of course, you may take out an insurance policy to cover costs up to a certain limit, or you may simply pay at the end of your treatment. Some practices also offer the capitation scheme, which means you make fixed monthly payments depending on your oral health and your expected level of treatment.
Insurance for dental costs in the UK
As treatment from both NHS and private dentists in the UK is not free, many people take out private health insurance to offset dental costs. For expats, there are a number of large international health insurance firms that offer dental coverage, including:
Seeing an emergency NHS dentist or private dentist in the UK
If you have a dental problem and you can’t wait until normal practice hours, you can call NHS 111 for self-care advice. If you cannot deal with the problem alone, NHS 111 will be able to advise you on the out-of-hours dental services in your area. You could also ring your usual dentist. Most dentists will have an answerphone message that explains what you need to do if you need out-of-hours treatment. If you have a trauma of the face, teeth or mouth, you are bleeding a lot, or you are in severe pain and painkillers aren’t helping, head to the accident and emergency (A&E) department at your local hospital.
Most urgent treatments can be done in one appointment, and you will only ever need to pay one Band 1 charge of £20.60 if you seek urgent care from an NHS dentist. If you require more than one session of urgent treatment, you should still only pay the Band 1 charge, so long as you see the same dentist. However, if the dentist recommends a separate course of non-urgent treatment, the relevant Band charges apply. Of course, if you see a private dentist, the charge will depend on the treatment and whether they enforce a fee for emergency care.
Finding dental care in the UK
There are a number of great search facilities on the Internet that can help you to find a dentist in your area. This includes:
- The NHS website
- The British Dental Associations’ Find A Dentist service, which has around 6,000 dentists registered.
If you decide to choose an NHS dentist, there are a few things to keep in mind. Firstly, you should never be asked to pay a deposit prior to your appointment. Secondly, there is no need to register. If you were booking an appointment with a GP, you would be bound to a catchment area. This is not the case with an NHS dentist; you can simply find a practice that is convenient for you. Call a dentistry practice near to your work or home and see if they have any appointments available.
If you are having any trouble finding a dentist that is accepting NHS patients, you can call 0300 311 2233, which is NHS England’s Customer Contact Centre. You can also try your local Healthwatch, as they may be able to give you information about the dental services in your area.