There are two primary options for dental care in the UK – seeing an NHS dentist or going to a private dentist. As an adult dental patient, finding the right dentist and choosing between NHS dentistry and private dentistry can be challenging.
Both types of dentists offer routine dental treatments, but a shortage of NHS dentists and a lack of funding have made it harder for many people to access NHS dental care, while concerns about high costs also put people off seeking private dental care.
Amongst shocking reports of people attempting dangerous DIY dentistry after being unable to see a dentist, it’s essential to educate yourself on the differences between NHS dentists and private dental practices so you know where to go to get the right treatment for you.
In this guide, we’ll compare dental care on the NHS and dental care from private dentists, so you can understand the pros and cons of each and choose the best dentist for your needs.
If you’re a resident of the UK, you’ll be entitled to government-subsidised NHS dental care. This focuses on clinical treatments to achieve and maintain good oral health.
As NHS dentistry is concerned with dental treatments that are ‘medically necessary’, an NHS dentist will typically offer a limited range of basic services, including:
If there is a clinical need, NHS dentists may also perform scale and polish treatments, wisdom tooth removal, or dental implant surgery. Braces are only available on the NHS for children under 18 years old whose teeth qualify for orthodontic treatment.
Private dentists also offer these routine treatments, but as they aren’t restricted by the same funding limitations as the NHS, they can offer a much more comprehensive range of services. Cosmetic dentistry is not available on the NHS, but private dentists can offer:
Private dentists can provide more options for the same type of treatment, with the latest technologies and more aesthetically pleasing materials available when paying privately.
The higher level of customisation means patients have more choices, with bespoke treatment plans to improve each patient’s smile and meet their unique needs.
The government subsidises NHS dentistry, so each NHS dental practice has a fixed budget, which is why they offer limited medically necessary services.
There is a common misconception that NHS dental services are free, like other NHS healthcare services. However, most adults have to pay for NHS dental care – though it is still low-cost compared to private dental care, with three fixed-rate tiers.
Children under 18 years old, patients under 19 years old who are still in full-time education, and adults who receive state benefits for low income are usually eligible for free NHS dental treatment. Patients who are pregnant or gave birth within the last 12 months can also receive free NHS dental care, as pregnancy can affect dental health.
Meanwhile, as the government does not fund private dental practices, they can set their own prices, and patients have to pay the full price themselves. This means that private dental care costs are typically higher than NHS dentistry.
However, this also means that private dentists can invest in more equipment and the latest technologies so they can offer the most varied and best quality treatments available.
Private dentist fees can vary depending on the treatment type and the location of the practice, but patients will always receive highly personalised treatment. Most private dentists also offer membership plans or dental finance with monthly repayments, making private dental care more accessible and affordable than you might think.
As they have to work with a limited budget set by the government, NHS dentists are under pressure to meet high targets. The demand is often very high, with too many patients looking for NHS dental care – resulting in many practices no longer accepting new NHS patients.
In England, 4 in 5 dental practices are not registering new NHS patients, and those who are, typically only accept children under 18, forcing adults to turn to private dentists.
According to the latest GP Patient Survey, the success rate for patients getting an appointment at a new practice was just 33% – for those who were unsuccessful, the primary reasons were that the dentist wasn’t accepting new NHS patients or there were no appointments available.
It’s no wonder that the number of complaints about NHS dentistry has increased by two-thirds in the last five years – with most complaints referring to increased fees and how difficult it has become to access NHS dental care in England.
When NHS practices don’t have the capacity for new patients, you must either join a waiting list that could take months or years or find a private dentist instead.
Getting a short-notice dental appointment with a private dentist is often far easier, as they have more flexibility. With much shorter waiting times, private dental practices offer a quicker solution for routine or cosmetic dentistry concerns.
All dentists in the UK must be qualified to practice dentistry professionally, so whether you go to an NHS dentist or a private dentist, you will be receiving a high level of care standardised by dentistry and healthcare bodies in the UK.
Unfortunately, there’s no denying that NHS dentists currently cannot meet the high demand for their services, and with less and less funding available, they do not have access to the same cutting-edge processes and materials that private dentists do.
Private dentists can offer a calmer environment with less time spent waiting and more time in the chair, discussing your dental health in greater depth. With more options available to you, you’ll also be able to make your own decisions about which treatment you’d prefer.
Suppose you have ongoing treatment over multiple appointments. In that case, you are more likely to have a continuous schedule and be able to see the same dentist each time at a private dental practice. In contrast, you may be waiting longer between appointments on the NHS and have to see whichever dentist is available that day – lacking continuity of care.
Additionally, while NHS dental products will always be perfectly functional, they may not always be the most aesthetically pleasing. So, if you want quality in looks as well as effectiveness, patients will have more cosmetic choices with private dentistry.
Choosing between an NHS dentist vs a private dentist is a personal decision that depends on your individual needs. If you need routine dental care and have a lower budget, it’s often best to go to your nearest NHS dentist.
However, if you’re unable to get an appointment with an NHS dentist, or you want more advanced dental treatment that isn’t available on the NHS, you’ll need to find a local private dentist that offers the treatments you’re looking for.
Some private dental practices, offer both NHS and private dental care – so even if the procedure you want isn’t available to you as an NHS patient, you can proceed as a private dental patient to access the services you want.
If you would like to receive high-quality dental care from an experienced and compassionate team, with appointments available to book at the most convenient time for you, then come to Dental Solutions in Warrington for a check-up or consultation. We even offer a cost-effective membership plan to help spread the cost of your essential dental care.