This information should not be relied upon as legal or professional advice. Read the disclaimer.
This page provides information on how to find an appointment with an NHS dentist in England, including a summary of guidance from the NHS and Healthwatch websites. It also provides information on NHS dental charges.
The Commons Library debate pack on NHS Dentistry in England (June 2022), provides more in-depth, contextual information on Government policy, dental contracts and provision.
Should people register with a dentist?
Unlike with GP surgeries, people do not need to register with a dentist to be seen. According to the NHS website, although a dentist practice may ask someone to fill in a “registration form” for their practice records, this does not guarantee access to NHS dental appointments in the future.
Where to search
People do not have to see their nearest or local dentist – the NHS website on How to find an NHS dentist explains that, unlike GP surgeries, dentists do not have catchment areas. Someone looking for a dentist could try different areas that are convenient for them, such as near their place of work or study.
Finding a dentist online
The NHS Find a dentist search tool lists dentist practices within the local area of a postcode, town or city. Each listing includes the address and contact details of the practice, whether they are currently taking on new NHS patients and when this information was last updated. Clicking on a practice will open a page with more information, including opening times and reviews.
Healthwatch advise that if information on the search page has not recently been updated, people should contact the practice directly for up-to-date information.
MPs and their staff can request more information on the services available in their area from the Social and General Statistics section of the Commons Library Service.
NHS England Customer Contact Centre
The NHS website states that if, after contacting different practices, someone cannot find an NHS dental appointment they should ring the NHS England Customer Contact Centre on 0300 311 2233.
People can also find a local Healthwatch, to get advice on the services available in their area.
Urgent or emergency treatment
The NHS website states that if someone has a “usual” dentist, they should first contact them to ask about an urgent appointment.
If this is not possible, the NHS 111 service can be used to find emergency or out-of-hours treatment.
GPs should not be contacted for dental care. People should attend A&E if they have severe pain, heavy bleeding, injuries to the face, mouth or teeth. NHS 111 can advise people on whether or not to attend A&E if they aren’t sure.
NHS dental charges
Patients are required to pay a contribution towards the cost of their NHS dental treatment. Dental charges range from £23.80 for emergency treatment to £282.80 for a ‘Band 3’ course of treatment. A breakdown of which treatments fall into each price band is available on the NHS webpage Understanding NHS dental charges.
The NHS page on help with dental costs sets out which groups are entitled to free dental treatment and how to apply for the NHS Low Income Scheme (LIS) for full or partial help with charges. Patients should inform their dentist if they entitled to help with charges – the NHS states that “dentists are not responsible for advising patients on exemptions, and it’s the patient’s responsibility to know if they’re exempt.” If a patient pays for treatment but thinks they may be entitled to help with charges, they should ask for a receipt and claim a refund, this can be done at the same time as applying to the LIS.
Many dentists provide a mixture of NHS and private dental treatment, so patients should make sure to clarify whether their treatment is deemed “clinically necessary” and available on the NHS before starting a course of treatment. The NHS website states “your dentist must make clear which treatments can be provided on the NHS and which can only be provided on a private basis, and the costs associated for each.”
Making a complaint
If a person wants to make a complaint, for example because they have been unable to find an NHS dental appointment, they should complain to NHS England as the commissioner of NHS dental services. Support to make a complaint is available from NHS Complaints Advocates, who are independent of the NHS. Find an Advocate by contacting the Local Healthwatch.
If a person is not satisfied with the outcome of a complaint, they should contact the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman, a free and independent service that makes final decisions on unresolved NHS complaints.