Paying for Dental Treatment in the UK: A Complete Guide

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The coronavirus pandemic led thousands of UK dentists to stop offering NHS care. Even back in 2019 the British Dental Association estimated 700,000 adults were delaying dental care due to the cost of treatment. Now, with many more in need of treatment and without the ability to gain affordable care, this is your guide to paying for dental treatment in the UK.

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What does dental work in the UK cost?

Dentistry in the UK is not free and can be expensive.

Dental treatment that is medically necessary to keep your mouth, teeth and gums healthy and pain-free is available on the NHS, but most adults have to pay a contribution towards their care. 

NHS patients only pay £550 million of the £2.25 billion that the NHS spends on dental treatment every year, according to the Oral Health Foundation. But it’s still possible for an individual to be left with a bill for hundreds of pounds.

Orthodontic treatment, such as braces, is only available on the NHS if there is a medical need for it. Cosmetic treatment, such as teeth whitening, is only offered privately. On the NHS you can have your teeth removed, but if you want to have a replacement you will need to pay privately.  

How much does NHS dental treatment cost?

NHS dental fees are set by the government and are the same for all NHS patients. The charges are reviewed annually and usually change in April.

In Scotland and Northern Ireland, you will be charged 80 per cent of the cost of your NHS dental treatment, up to a maximum of £384 per course. See the Scottish Dental website for examples of current fees.

In England and Wales, NHS dental treatment is split into three price bands. Band 1 costs £22.70 in England and £14.30 in Wales. It covers an examination, diagnosis, advice, minor corrections, any necessary X-rays and further treatment plans.

Band 2 costs £62.10 in England and £46 in Wales. It covers everything in Band 1, plus extra treatment such as fillings, root canal treatment and extractions.

There’s a big jump to Band 3, which costs £269.30 in England and £199.10 in Wales. This bracket covers all the above, plus any more complicated dental treatment such as crowns, dentures and bridges. See the NHS website for full details.

NHS patients only pay once for each type of treatment, even if you need to make multiple visits to complete it.

There is no extra charge if, within two months of completing NHS dental treatment, you need more treatment from the same or lower charge band. Fillings, root fillings, inlays, porcelain veneers and crowns are all guaranteed for 12 months.

How much does emergency dental work cost?

NHS patients needing emergency dental work are charged the lowest Band 1 fee of £22.70 in England or £14.30 in Wales. If you need a dentist in the middle of the night, call 111 to find your nearest out-of-hours dental service.

Most urgent treatments are completed in one appointment but your dentist may advise you to make another appointment for further, non-urgent treatment. This will be priced according to the NHS price bands listed above.

Who is eligible for free NHS dental treatment?

NHS dental treatment in the UK is only free if you’re under 18, under 19 and in full-time education, pregnant or have had a baby in the previous 12 months. 

It’s also free if you are receiving low-income benefits, have a spouse who is receiving low-income benefits or you are under 20 and dependent on someone who is receiving low-income benefits.

NHS dentists may require written proof that you don’t have to pay for your dental treatment and you’ll be asked to sign a form.

No NHS patient has to pay for denture repair or the removal of stitches. The NHS website also notes that you will not be charged if your dentist has to stop blood loss (eek!). 

There is also no charge if your NHS dentist only has to write out a prescription, but note that you will still have to pay the £9 prescription charge at the pharmacy.

How much does private dental treatment cost?

Unlike the NHS, private dental fees vary between practices and are often dependent on location. Private dental treatment is usually pricier than NHS dental treatment but it could mean getting treated sooner.

Three-quarters of UK dentists offer both NHS and private dental treatment. Your dentist should explain which treatments are available on the NHS and which are only offered privately. You should only be charged for private dental treatment if you have agreed to have it done. Private dental treatment is never compulsory, so don’t be pressured into it.

To avoid the nasty surprise of a big bill, ask to see your personal, fully-costed dental treatment plan before starting it. 

Different dental practices have different payment procedures. Some will ask you to pay for your treatment upfront, some will ask you to pay in stages and others will ask you to pay after completing treatment. Check with the surgery when you book your appointment so that you can budget accordingly.

How to pay for dental work

Look after your teeth

Prevention is better than cure and the best way to pay for dental work is to avoid needing it in the first place! Keep teeth and gums healthy by cutting down on sugary and starchy food and drinks, brushing your teeth with fluoride toothpaste twice daily, using dental floss daily and going for regular dental check-ups.

Buy dental insurance or private health insurance

Yes, buying dental insurance or private medical insurance means paying a set monthly or yearly premium, but if you’re prone to dental problems, any pricey private dental treatment plan will be covered by your insurer and might make better financial sense in the long run. 

Be sure to check the policy wording carefully as many insurance policies cap how much they pay out towards dental treatment. Private health insurance is sometimes offered as an employee benefit, so check with yours before forking out for a policy.

Sign up for the NHS Low Income Scheme

If you have a low income and less than £16,000 in savings, you can apply for the NHS Low Income Scheme. If accepted, you can get help paying for dental work. If you’ve already paid for NHS dental work, you can apply for a refund at the same time as applying for the scheme. The amount of financial assistance you’ll be offered will depend on your income and outgoings.

Reach out to oral health charities

If you’re suffering physically and emotionally from dental problems yet lack the funds to pay for treatment, try getting in touch with oral health charities such as Dentaid and the Oral Health Foundation, to see if they can offer help paying for dental treatment.

If they can’t, they may be able to promote a crowdfunding page on a blog, social media platform or email newsletter, or at least offer helpful advice.

Be a guinea pig

One way of getting free dental care is to volunteer to be treated by a student dentist. Before you panic, undergraduates are always supervised by a fully-trained dentist, who will step in if needs be. 

Bear in mind that your treatment will take longer and you will likely only be accepted if your complaint is relatively routine. Some student clinics only accept patients who are not registered with another dentist. 

Get in touch with universities that offer dentistry as a degree, such as King’s College London, Newcastle and Glasgow, and ask about the opportunity for free dental care.

Take out a loan

There are specialist loans available for the most expensive treatments, such as cosmetic procedures and implants. Loans allow you to borrow money and pay it back in installments over an agreed amount of time. The drawback is that you will usually be charged interest.

Buy now pay later

Many dentists also offer a buy now pay later scheme. While you may not be charged interest, you will incur fees if you are late for your payments – so if you choose to do this make sure you are confident that you will be able to make monthly payments. 

Start crowdfunding

If you’ve been hit by unexpected dental costs you can’t afford, asking for help is always an option. 

Be prepared to tell your story honestly, explaining the physical and emotional impact your dental problem is having on your life and why you need financial support. Be inspired by fundraisers such as James who raised £1,700 to help fund his dentistry work on GoFundMe after being bullied for his teeth loss. “Getting my dentures fitted three months ago was like Christmas, Easter, birthdays and anniversaries all at once,” he told WalesOnline.  

Share your GoFundMe campaign on social media in an effort to build a community around your fundraiser and increase donations.  

Should your crowdfunding campaign be successful, remember to update your donors on the huge difference their contributions have made to your health and wellbeing.

Get the help you need today

Paying for dental treatment might be expensive – and, in the case of emergency dental work, unplanned for – but the good news is that you can ask for help. GoFundMe makes crowdfunding quick and easy for everyone. 

Setting up your GoFundMe fundraiser could not be simpler and our GoFundMe Guarantee keeps donors and beneficiaries safe. 

GoFundMe is optimised for social sharing, so post your GoFundMe campaign on all your social platforms to maximise donations and get financial assistance for dental work today.

Start your fundraiser today 

Written by dina