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How do I find an NHS dentist?

Dr Roger Henderson
Reviewed by Roger HendersonReviewed on 29.04.2024 | 4 minutes read

It's important to keep your pearly whites in tip-top condition, and not just for that Hollywood smile. Bad teeth and gums can cause significant problems if neglected, and may incur considerable costs, time, pain and inconvenience. It’s recommended you visit a dentist every 12 to 24 months, although some may need it more often.

Dental care in the UK is a mixture of NHS-funded and private services, and most dentists do both. The NHS supports certain treatments, if this is necessary to maintain care of your teeth, gums and mouth.

NHS-approved dental care is funded by you, unless you are exempt, but it follows a fixed price structure for certain approved treatments.

They do not fund procedures or corrections that are regarded as cosmetic.

Approved treatments include certain crowns, dentures, fillings and so on, but these may have been chosen for reasons of cost, longevity and clinical safety. They may not be the most cosmetically pleasing, and clients may wish to pay for a more attractive option.

What's free on the NHS?

The NHS fixed price structure is grouped into three bands, based on what treatment you need. Band 1 is for the initial examination, diagnosis, advice and any plan for treatment. Band 2 is for the same plus certain treatments such as root canal work, extractions and fillings, and is more expensive. Band 3 is for more complex treatment, and the price reflects this, including bridges, crowns and dentures.

Emergency care is Band 1, including any urgent treatments. Any follow-up may put your treatment in a higher band.

Your dentist is able to prescribe certain medications, such as painkillers and antibiotics, and you may need to pay the prescription charge for this, but not the cost of the medication.

You are entitled to free NHS dental care under the following circumstances: you’re pregnant or it’s less than a year since you had your baby, for children up to 18 (or under 19 and in full-time education), or you’re on certain low income benefits.

How can I find an NHS dentist?

The NHS website can help you find a local dentist here It’s not the same as registering at a GP surgery – you can join any dental practice convenient or recommended to you, so this can be near your work, home or your child’s school.

Most dental practices accept NHS patients, but sometimes they’ve reached capacity and you may need to be put on a waiting list, look for an alternative or accept private treatment.

If you've tried multiple dental surgeries and not had any luck signing up for a routine NHS appointment, you can call NHS England's Customer Contact Centre on 0300 311 2233 for guidance.

Most practices offer both urgent and non-urgent care, and they usually have same-day appointment in an emergency.

If you need an emergency treatment outside of working hours, your dental surgery’s answer message or website may be able to help. You don’t have to wait for emergency care at your own surgery, you can accept it anywhere. If you are having difficulties finding an emergency dentist, call NHS 111 for help.

Your GP is unable to help with dental care, even in emergencies, so there is no point in contacting them.

Does the NHS fund dental care abroad?

With the emphasis on teeth looking whiter than white and straighter than straight in recent years, many have sought veneers and implants to achieve this look. It’s often cheaper abroad, as cost overheads are less. The NHS will not fund this, and would strongly encourage you to return to the dentist you received treatment from if you have any complications.

That said, you are still eligible for emergency dental treatment if you run into problems when back in the UK and fall under one of the urgent categories.

If you need emergency dental treatment abroad, the NHS does not reimburse this in the same way they do for other medical problems – your travel insurance may cover this.

Under certain exceptional circumstances, the NHS may pre-approve essential treatment abroad, but you need to apply for it in advance.

When should I see my GP? Or Emergency Department?

Doctors in the UK are not licensed to provide dental care. Your GP cannot treat teeth or gum issues, even in an emergency, and is very unlikely to prescribe antibiotics for a tooth abscess as a result. You always need to speak to your dentist about any dental problems.

Similarly, you will not receive routine or urgent dental care from doctors in the emergency department, except under certain exceptional circumstances such as severe pain, heavy bleeding or injuries to the face, mouth or teeth.

NHS 111 or your dental surgery can advise you if you are unsure where to go.

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Dr Roger Henderson
Reviewed by Roger Henderson
Reviewed on 29.04.2024
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