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NHS dentist charges: are you paying too much?

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Going to the dentist isn't just painful, it can also be expensive, which makes knowing your NHS treatment options even more important. Here is how much you should be paying for your dentist.
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Make sure you understand how much your NHS dentist will charge you for treatment before you get into the chair.

What are your rights?

Whether you’ve got an agonising toothache or are oblivious to any dental problems you might have, if your NHS dentist tells you that you need treatment, it’s important to know that you have a number of rights that protect you.

With many dental practices offering NHS and private dental services, you may often be given the choice of NHS or private treatment. Although it might be the same dentist doing the work, if you opt to pay privately you may get access to different treatments or materials that could give you a better cosmetic result.

It is important to note, however, that there is no need to go private and you should never feel pressured into it. 

The NHS can provide all the necessary treatment to keep your teeth and gums healthy, however, it doesn’t provide non-essential cosmetic treatments for example teeth whitening.

How much should NHS treatment cost?

Unlike most NHS services, it's likely that you will have to pay towards the cost of any dental care unless you qualify for free treatment.

Exactly how much you pay will depend on where you live in the UK and the type of treatment you need.

England & Wales

The cost of NHS dental treatment in England and Wales is fixed, but how much you pay will depend on the extent of the treatment required.

NHS dentist charges are split into three different bands:

  • Band 1: costs £23.80 in England and £14.70 in Wales. This covers standard examinations, diagnosis including x-rays, dental advice, and minor cosmetic treatment, like a scale and polish, fluoride varnish or a fissure sealant.

  • Band 2: costs £65.20 in England and £47 in Wales. This includes treatments like fillings, root canal operations and the removal of teeth.

  • Band 3: costs £282.80 in England and £203 in Wales. This includes everything under bands 1 and 2 but also extends to more complex treatments like crowns, dentures and bridges.

Scotland & Northern Ireland

If you live in Scotland or Northern Ireland, you will pay 80% of the cost of your NHS treatment, up to a maximum of £384 per treatment.

Visit the NI Direct website for treatment costs of patients Northern Ireland

Do I need to pay for every visit to the dentist?

Importantly, as an NHS patient, you will only pay once for each type of treatment you need, regardless of the total number of visits you need to make to your dentist.

The exception to this rule is if you require an emergency or an unscheduled visit at the beginning of your treatment.

Who qualifies for free treatment?

Regardless of where you live in the UK, you will qualify for free dental care if you fall into one of the following groups when your treatment begins:

  • Under 18 years of age

  • Aged 18 and still in full-time education

  • Pregnant

  • Have given birth within the last 12 months

  • Are a hospital patient and treatment is carried out by a hospital dentist (excludes Scotland)

You may also qualify for free dental treatment if you claim certain benefits or are a war pensioner, although this varies depending on where you live.

England & Northern Ireland

You could qualify for free dental treatment in England and Northern Ireland if you receive certain benefits either when your treatment starts or when you're asked to pay.

To check if you qualify, visit the NHS website or the NI Direct website.

NHS website

NI Direct website

Wales

If you live in Wales, you won't have to pay for a standard dental check-up if:

  • You are aged under 25

  • You are aged over 60

Additional treatments following your check-up will incur the standard charge.

You could also qualify for free dental treatments if you get certain benefit payments.

Visit the NHS Direct Wales website for details

Scotland

To claim free treatment in Scotland, you must tell your dentist that you qualify in advance and bring the appropriate documents as evidence.

You can check if you qualify for free treatment and the documents you need by visiting the Scottish Government website.

Visit the Scottish Government website

Help if you’re on a low income

If you're on a low income, you may qualify for the NHS Low Income Scheme which helps reduce the cost of any dental work you have on the NHS. You can apply if you have a total capital limit of:

  • Less than £16,000 a year, if you live in England, Scotland or Wales

  • Less than £23,250, if you live permanently in a care home in England or Scotland

  • Less than £24,000, if you live permanently in a care home in Wales

Find out more about the Low Income Scheme on the NHS website

What is the total capital limit?

Your total capital limit is your annual income plus the value of any money you have in savings or investments.

It also includes the value of any property owned but not lived in by you, for example, a rental property or a property held in trust.

What if something goes wrong?

If any dental treatment you get on the NHS fails within 12 months, your dentist should repair or replace what's gone wrong free of charge.

The exception to this rule is if you were told that the treatment was a temporary measure, or unlikely to be a long-term fix. If this is the case, you may have to pay for a second course of treatment.

How much will private dental treatment cost?

Private dental care is normally more expensive than NHS treatment, but going private could mean you get treated quicker, and have the option of cosmetic treatments that aren't covered by the NHS.

Average private dental treatments in the UK

Updated 2 December 2021
TreatmentAverage cost of private treatment
Check up£63
Dental crown (ceramic)£589
Dental implant£2,339
Teeth whitening (in office)£477

Source: Dentaly.org (based on prices charged in 258 dental surgeries across the UK in 2021)

If you decide to go down the private route you should still receive a treatment plan, detailing your full costs. It’s important to check what is included and whether there may be any extra fees on top, for example for x-rays.

If you are considering using a private dentist, dental insurance could help with the cost of treatment.

With dental insurance, you pay a set premium each month and then when you need treatment the cost is covered by your insurer.

Compare dental insurance policies here

Compare health insurance policies so you can find one with premiums you can afford that comes with all of the benefits and cover options you need.

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