Expert tips on finding and getting the best from an NHS dentist, plus information on private and NHS dental charges.
In England, the NHS Choices website is designed to be the central place where everyone can find a dentist. However, our research has shown that, depending on where you live, you may still have to ring around to find a dental practice to take you as a new patient. In other UK countries, NHS dentist-finder services include NHS Wales, NHS24 in Scotland, and Health and Social Care in Northern Ireland.
10 tips for finding the right NHS dentist
1There’s no need to register
You are not bound to a catchment area as you would be with a GP. Simply find a practice that’s convenient for you, whether near home or work, and phone it to see whether any appointments are available.
2Deposit not needed
You shouldn’t be asked to pay a deposit before booking an NHS appointment.
3Don’t feel pressured
You shouldn’t feel you have to see a private dentist because there are no NHS appointments available, even if it’s suggested as an alternative.
4Get NHS dentist recommendations
Friends and family are a good source of recommendations, or check out patient recommendations for dentist practices on the NHS Choices website.
5Can’t find an NHS dentist?
Contact your local NHS England Area Team (or the equivalents in other UK countries) if you can’t find an NHS dentist taking on new patients. You can find the details of your NHS England Area Team details on the NHS Choices website (nhs.uk).
6Anxious at the dentist?
Tell the dentist in advance if you’re an anxious patient or have any other needs they should accommodate.
7NHS or private dentist?
Before you book, double-check whether you’re booking NHS or privately so you don’t find any nasty surprises in your bill.
8NHS dental pricing homework
Be clear about NHS pricing before you see the dentist – our undercover investigation in February 2015 found that a third of dentists weren’t clear about private and NHS dental charges.
9Check the cost Check
how much the appointment will cost and what it will and won’t include (for example, x-rays will be included in the cost of an NHS new-patient consultation, but may not be in a private appointment).
10NHS dentist prices at the surgery
Prices should be displayed clearly in the surgery, so ask if you don’t see them.
Dentist problems uncovered by us
Our research carried out in early 2015 revealed that a third (31%) of NHS dentists who say they’re accepting new patients on NHS Choices are actually not. In March 2015, we called 500 dental practices advertising on the government’s official NHS Choices website as accepting new NHS patients, to see if we could book an appointment.
Problems we uncovered included: Being asked to pay deposits before booking with an NHS dentist, including a non-refundable deposit in at least one case. There’s no legal basis for charging patients for missed NHS appointments, and charges in advance of treatment are not permitted.
Arduous booking systems, including having to make a special visit to the surgery to register as a new patient before being allowed to book an appointment.
Being offered a private dental appointment for the next day, when an NHS dentist was wanted. There are some alternatives to using NHS Choices to find a dentist. NHS dentist-finder services – such as Toothpick and Zesty – are also springing up, but we haven’t yet reviewed them.