An overview of NHS dentistry in England, including a discussion of current challenges facing providers and the Government response.
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.
Should people register with a dentist?
Unlike with GP surgeries, people don’t 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 doesn’t guarantee access to NHS dental appointments in the future.
Where to search
People don’t have to see their nearest or local dentist – the NHS website on How to find an NHS dentist explains that 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 dental 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 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.
It’s now a requirement for dental practices to update their information on the search tool regularly, but if information is not available people should contact the practice directly.
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.
The NHS website says that if someone is unable to find a dentist, they can raise their concerns with their local integrated care board (see ‘how to make a complaint’ below).
Urgent or emergency treatment
The NHS website states says if someone has a “usual” dentist, they should first contact them to ask about an urgent appointment.
If this isn’t possible, the NHS 111 service can be used to find emergency or out-of-hours treatment.
GPs shouldn’t 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 to attend A&E if they aren’t sure.
NHS dental charges
Patients must pay a contribution towards the cost of their NHS dental treatment. Dental charges range from £25.80 for urgent treatment to £306.80 for a ‘Band 3’ course of treatment. A breakdown of which treatments fall into each price band is 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’re entitled to help with charges – the NHS says “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 says “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 because they’ve been unable to find an NHS dental appointment they should contact their local integrated care board, which is responsible for dental services.
Support to make a complaint is available from NHS Complaints Advocates, who are independent of the NHS. Search online for ‘NHS complaints advocacy’ in your area.
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.
The Commons Library briefing paper on NHS dentistry in England provides more in-depth, contextual information on Government policy, dental contracts and provision.
About the author: Katherine Garratt is a researcher specialising in mental health at the House of Commons Library and is a Registered Mental Health Nurse.
The Commons Library does not intend the information in this article to address the specific circumstances of any particular individual. We have published it to support the work of MPs. You should not rely upon it as legal or professional advice, or as a substitute for it. We do not accept any liability whatsoever for any errors, omissions or misstatements contained herein. You should consult a suitably qualified professional if you require specific advice or information. Read our briefing for information about sources of legal advice and help.