If you're considering whether to look for an NHS dentist or choose private dental care, you must understand the differences between the two. In this guide, we consider the pros and cons of each option and explain the main differences so you can make an informed choice.
For most of us, good quality care is our main priority when choosing a dentist. NHS dentists and private dentists can both provide routine check-ups and follow-up treatment. However, there are some crucial differences between NHS and private dental treatment that you need to consider before making your choice.
Here are a few main differences between NHS and private dental treatments.
Generally, private dentists offer a wider range of treatments than NHS dentists.
NHS dentists focus on providing care based on clinical need, and their treatment options focus on ensuring that your teeth, mouth and gums are healthy. The main difference between NHS and private dental care is that the NHS doesn't provide cosmetic treatments.
NHS dental care provides routine check-ups, including a scale and polish if medically necessary. NHS dentists also offer treatment for abscesses, wisdom tooth removal, fillings, and root canal treatment. If you need false teeth, crowns or dental bridges, you can get them as an NHS patient.
If you or your child need orthodontic treatment, for example, braces to straighten your teeth, these may be available on the NHS if you meet the relevant criteria. Generally, there must be a medical need for orthodontic treatment. For example, crooked teeth can be susceptible to damage, cause problems with your bite or affect your ability to clean your teeth, resulting in decay.
You can find out more about NHS dental treatment here.
Private dentists offer the same range of treatments as an NHS dentist but can also provide cosmetic treatments to improve your teeth's appearance.
The treatments on offer include teeth whitening, composite bonding, porcelain veneers and orthodontic treatments. A private dentist can often offer treatments not funded by the NHS, such as invisible braces. Private dentists aren't subject to the same funding restrictions as NHS dental care, so they can offer you more choices.
If you've had a check-up with your NHS dentist, they may recommend further treatment and provide a treatment plan setting this out. Some recommended treatments will likely be available via the NHS, while others may only be available privately.
If this happens, you can choose where you go for any private dental treatment. Your NHS dentist will likely also offer private treatment, and you can pay privately. This solution is ideal if you'd rather be treated by someone you already know and trust. However, if you prefer, you can see a different private dentist instead.
NHS dental care isn't free, but it is subsidised, meaning it costs less than if you pay privately.
You can get free NHS dental care if you meet the criteria. Even if you don't, the charges you pay an NHS dentist are often lower than the ones you'll pay to a private dentist.
NHS dentistry charges are arranged into three bands that reflect the complexity of different dental treatments. Band 1 covers routine check-ups, x-rays and emergency treatment, with each treatment costing £25.80. Band 2 treatments cost £70.70 and include fillings, root canal treatment and extractions. Band 3 is the most expensive, with each treatment charged at £306.80. This category includes crowns, bridges and dentures. Each band includes all the treatments in lower bands, so if you need a filling and a crown, you'll only pay the band 3 price.
A private dentist is free to set their costs. Charges aren't subsidised, so a private dentist is typically more expensive than NHS treatment.
Charges for private dental care vary depending on a dentist's location. Providing dental care is more expensive in some places because rent, utility costs and staff wages are higher. Unsurprisingly, treatment prices have all risen over the past year.
Prices for different treatments can also differ significantly. For example, private dental care in London is more costly on average. However, the average cost of an initial consultation in London is relatively low. It's worth shopping around your local dentists to see how prices compare. If you're willing to travel for your dental treatments, you may find lower costs in a neighbouring town or city.
If you're considering going to a private dentist, you may worry about how you'll pay for your treatment. Most private dentists offer monthly plans that cover the cost of your routine check-ups and may also include discounts on other treatments.
If you have private medical insurance, you can add dental insurance or take out an individual policy to cover your care. Insurance can be a more cost-effective option, depending on the level of treatment you need.
It's becoming increasingly difficult to find a dentist accepting new NHS patients. Changes in funding for NHS dentistry mean that more dental practices focus on private work while others are closed to new NHS patients. A BBC survey found nine out of ten dental practices are closed to new adult NHS patients, and eight out of ten are closed to new child NHS patients.
By contrast, it's usually easier to find a private dental practice. It's still wise to do some research, for example, asking for recommendations, checking their website and third-party review sites for customer reviews, or looking them up on the Care Quality Commission website.
Just as it's become more challenging to register with an NHS dental practice, it can also be difficult to get an appointment. The 2022 GP Patient Survey collected data from patients seeking dental appointments and found that many had been unable to get an appointment in the past two years.
81.8% of patients already registered with the surgery could make an appointment, compared to only 31.5% of new patients. 32% of those were turned away because the practice was closed to new NHS patients.
By contrast, most private dental practices pride themselves on being able to offer appointments at short notice. Some, though not all, offer out-of-hours and weekend appointments, meaning you'll likely have more success making an appointment at a convenient time.
All NHS and private dentists are highly qualified professionals with years of training and experience. Whether you choose an NHS or a private dental practice, you'll receive high-quality care.
However, a private dentist can typically afford to give you more time in the dentist's chair. More time can give you a more thorough check-up. If you need further treatment, your dentist can explain your options in greater depth and answer your questions more fully.
Ideally, you'll see the same dentist at each appointment, whether you're an NHS or private patient. However, with NHS treatment, this isn't always guaranteed. Many NHS patients find it challenging to get an appointment, so you may need to see a different dentist simply because they're available when you need a check-up.
It's often easier to get an appointment with a private dentist so you can specify who you want to see. This offers greater continuity of care as you can build a relationship with your dentist over time.
The main advantage of seeing an NHS dentist is that their services are subsidised, so your treatment will cost much less.
You'll also get high-quality care from an experienced and qualified professional.
Unfortunately, there are fewer NHS dentists, which means getting appointments can be more challenging, and you may not be able to see the same dentist each time.
The NHS only covers treatments where there is a medical need, so you can't have cosmetic dentistry on the NHS. However, you may be able to pay your dentist separately for private treatment.
Some of the advantages of private dental care are:
Private dental treatment is much more expensive than NHS care.
We hope this guide has helped you understand the difference between NHS and private dental care. Our guides are intended to offer general guidance and shouldn't be considered individual advice.
If you're considering private dental care and want to learn more about how health insurance can help, please contact us. We'll put you in touch with a specialist broker who'll provide tailored advice and a comparison quote.
Disclaimer: This information is general and what is best for you will depend on your personal circumstances. Please speak with a financial adviser or do your own research before making a decision.
NHS dentistry only provides medically necessary treatments to keep your teeth, mouth and gums healthy. An NHS dentist doesn't offer cosmetic treatments, such as teeth whitening or orthodontic treatment, if it's only being done for cosmetic reasons.
NHS treatments are subsidised, so you'll only pay a fixed fee based on the care you need. Private treatment isn't subsidised and must cover all of a dentist's costs, including their rent, utility bills, wages, and the materials they need to carry out treatments.