The Cost of Dental Treatment

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Written by the Dental Fear Central Web Team
Last updated on February 28, 2024

Even if I could somehow work up the courage to see a dentist, I wouldn’t be able to afford dental treatment.

There is no doubt that the cost of dental treatment can be a major deterrent to seeking help. Usually, there are treatment options available to fit different budgets. Financing options vary from country to country – this page covers the UK.

We have a separate page with information on how to finance dental treatment in the U.S. here:

How to Afford Dental Treatment in the U.S.

Financing Dental Treatment in the UK

You can pay for dental treatment on the NHS or as a private patient. If you are on low income benefits, you are probably entitled to free NHS dental treatment.

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The cheapest option is NHS dentistry. The NHS will provide any clinically necessary treatment to keep your mouth, teeth and gums healthy and pain-free. However, you may not have the same choice of treatments and materials (or time) available as you might in the private sector.

The NHS charge bands in England and Wales as of May 2023 are as follows:

  • Emergency dental treatment: £25.80 (Wales: £14.70). This covers emergency care in a primary care dental practice, such as pain relief or a temporary filling.
  • Band 1: £23.80 (Wales: £14.70). This charge includes an examination, diagnosis and preventive advice. If necessary, it also includes X-rays, scale and polish and preventive care such as applying fluoride varnish or fissure sealant if appropriate.
  • Band 2: £70.70 (Wales: £47). This includes all the necessary treatment covered by the Band 1 charge, plus additional treatment, such as fillings, root canal work or teeth removal.
  • Band 3: £306.80 (Wales: £203). This charge includes all the necessary treatment covered by Band 1 and Band 2, plus more complex procedures, such as crowns, dentures, bridges and other laboratory work.

Scotland and Northern Ireland are still operating under the old fee-per-item NHS system. The maximum charge for a single course of NHS treatment in Scotland and Northern Ireland is £384; some treatments require prior approval before a dentist can start working with you. There is no charge for an examination. You can find some examples of treatment charges here.

You can find out more about free and paid NHS treatment here:

Tips for finding an NHS dentist

  • Do an online search for NHS dentists who accept new patients. In England, use the NHS England – Find a Dentist search. If in Wales, see how to Find an NHS Dentist here. In Scotland, contact the dental helpline at your NHS board.
  • Visit several practices until you find one that you like the feel of.
  • Dentists tend to start out working in the NHS to gain experience. But after a couple of years, many move into private practice. This may make it challenging to build a lasting relationship with a dentist you get on well with. On the other hand, some recently graduated dentists may have a special interest in helping people overcome their fears and may appreciate the opportunity to develop their skills in this field. Read their bios on dental practice websites!
  • In some mixed NHS and private practices, more senior dentists continue to provide NHS treatment to existing NHS patients, but new NHS patients may be assigned to recently qualified dentists. If there’s a particular senior dentist you’d love to see and they provide NHS treatment, ask if you can see that dentist.
  • If you can’t find a dentist taking on new NHS patients, call NHS England’s Customer Contact Centre on 0300 311 2233. In Wales, call the Dental Helpline for your Health Board area. In Scotland, contact the dental helpline at your NHS board. Use Google or if you have trouble finding their phone number, call the NHS Inform Helpline on 0800 22 44 88.
  • Your local Healthwatch may also be able to help you find a suitable NHS dentist.
  • There’s no need to register with a dentist. Unlike with GPs, you’re not bound to a catchment area. So you can look further afield if you wish.

Community Dental Services (aka Salaried Dental Services)

If you suffer with dental phobia, you may be able to avail yourself of the Community Dental Service (CDS). The same goes if you have certain disabilities, medical conditions, or are housebound (for example, due to agoraphobia).

The Community Dental Service is provided on the NHS, and the usual NHS charges apply.

Unlike “normal” NHS dentists, dentists who work for the Community Dental Service are paid an income directly by the NHS. They will have more time to spend with you and usually offer various sedation options. However, this service is not available to people with dental phobia in all areas, and you may not be able to get an appointment straight away. In some areas, waiting times may be several months.

Our Special Needs and Dental Care page explains how to find out what services are available in your area.

In areas where the CDS does not provide dental treatment for people with dental phobia, you may be able to ask your dentist for a referral to an NHS sedation clinic (also see our page on “Is dental sedation right for me?“).

Going private

If you can afford it, you have the option of going private. Going private means your dentist can spend more time with you to get to know you and your fears. Also, you may have a wider choice of treatments and materials (for example, white fillings for back teeth, higher quality crown materials, dental implants, less bulky dentures, to name but a few). What’s more, you’ll have a much bigger pool of dentists to choose from.

Obviously, just because a dentist is private doesn’t mean they’re any good, so shop around and get recommendations from acquaintances, friends, colleagues, family, GPs, and/or the internet: How to find a phobic-friendly dentist

There can be huge differences in the fees which private dentists charge. If money is a concern, why not ask the dental practices you’re interested in for a price list? Some of the differences in fees can be explained by location, some by lab costs and/or materials used, and some by the dentists’ qualifications. Don’t assume that higher prices automatically mean a rip-off. Vice versa, some dentists deliberately try and keep their fees affordable, so lower fees don’t necessarily mean worse quality.

Dental Payment Plans

Dental insurance is usually not worth it in the UK, and usually doesn’t cover pre-existing conditions. Instead, many dentists now offer membership plans (also known as dental payment plans). They usually include check-ups, x-rays, regular cleanings, and discounts on any dental treatment you may need.

Membership plans can be good value, but their main advantage is that you can budget ahead and pay a monthly fee. Also, they may make it easier to motivate yourself to visit your dentist regularly.

The disadvantage is that it makes switching dentists difficult if you don’t want to stick with your current dentist or they leave and go elsewhere.

Do the maths and see if their membership plan meets your needs.

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