Dental patients in the UK can get low-cost care through the National Health Service (NHS) or opt for more flexibility with private dental care. You’ll find pros and cons for both options, so it’s important to understand your choices. Your personal needs and preferences play an important role in helping you decide whether private care is the right choice for you.
How the NHS Works
The NHS provides low-cost dental care to patients in the UK, which is focused on stabilising your dental health. In England necessary dental treatments fall into one of three bands. Each band has a set price point. For example, band 1 contains all basic care including examinations, X-rays, and cleanings. This means you will pay one set price whether you get an exam or you get X-rays and a full cleaning. You must seek treatment with a dentist who accepts NHS patients to take advantage of this program.
How Private Dental Care Works
If you want cosmetic treatments such as teeth whitening, you must use private dental care. However, you can also choose to use private dental care for all your treatments. When you use private dental care, you typically have more dentists to choose from and more flexibility with your care plan, since there are no NHS restrictions to limit your choices. Some private practices also offer low cost or free finance options to help your spread the cost of your dental care.
The NHS uses three price bands that neatly encompass all dental care.
- Band 1: £18.80 – Basic examinations, X-rays, scale and polish.
- Band 2: £51.30 – All treatment in Band 1 plus fillings, extractions, root canals, and denture relining.
- Band 3: £222.50 – All treatment in Band 1 and Band 2 plus crowns, bridges, and dentures.
Private dental care is usually more expensive but can offer the latest in cosmetic dental treatments, like teeth straightening and teeth whitening. A basic dental examination, which would cost £18.80 with the NHS, would typically cost between £25 and £45 privately. You fall behind if you need a large filling though, at a price of £50 to £95 privately – that carries flat fee of £51.30 with the NHS.
Patients can opt for dental insurance to help cover the cost of private dental care. The insurance is similar to gym membership and is designed to encourage you to stable dental health and therefore reduce your future costs. Some practices offer their own dental insurance and is useful if you intend to stay at the practice for some years. Others are available to buy online and price comparison sites can help you choose the best cover for your needs. Since both private dental charges and insurance plans vary, it’s worth doing the math to see what your treatments will cost with different combinations of coverage.
Comparing the Level of Care
While the low, fixed price of NHS care is beneficial to patients, it puts dentists in a difficult position. Dentists are incentivised to reach targets based on completed treatments they perform and so generally very few offer comprehensive advise to prevent dental disease. There is no incentive in the way they are paid to treat patients with complex dental needs.
This can limit the time you spend with an NHS dentist and is the main difference from private dental care.
If you need extensive dental work, private dental care is usually the best option because you will have more experienced dentists who have invested considerable amounts of time and money to focus on cosmetic options. If you just want to see a hygienist for regular cleaning then choose private as very few hygienists work in the NHS sector.
If you’re looking for a low-cost way to get regular cleanings and minor treatments, the NHS is a simple alternative that offers clear pricing options for basic care. You might find however that with a limited amount of NHS dentists accepting new patients that you may have to travel some distance to see one. For more information about this topic, please visit the NHS Choices website, and click here for our comprehensive infographic on NHS dental pricing.
You can view and book both NHS and private appointments in your area on Toothpick.