1. Introduction
  2. Finding a dentist
  3. Charges
  4. Making the most of your appointment
  5. Dealing with anxiety
  6. Key questions to ask
  7. Referrals
  8. Complaining about treatment
  9. Complaining about an individual
  10. Further support
  11. Let us know what you thought of this information
  12. Contact us


This page is designed to give you more information about finding a dentist and using their services.

It includes tips on how to prepare for an appointment, the charges you can expect and how to make a complaint.

The page also includes information on useful websites. If you do not have internet access you can go online at your local library or call our free helpline on 0800 345 7115.

Why dental health matters

Good dental health can help prevent bad breath, tooth decay and gum disease and a number of other health conditions.

It can also help you keep your teeth as you get older.

An unhealthy mouth can increase your risk of serious health problems. Dentists can also spot early signs of oral cancer.

Yet many of us do not visit the dentist until there is an emergency.

Figures released by NHS Digital in 2019 showed:

  • 50% of adults had been seen by an NHS dentist in the last two years
  • 59% of children had been seen by an NHS dentist in the last year.

Finding a dentist

NHS dentists – what you need to know:

  • Every NHS patient has the right to NHS dental treatment
  • Treatment is subsidised by the state meaning you pay less than the full cost
  • A fixed scale of charges lets you know exactly what you have to pay
  • The range of treatments is limited
  • An NHS patient can choose to pay for some treatments privately
  • Dentists can decide whether they want to accept NHS patients
  • Even when a dentist does accept NHS patients there can be a waiting list.

Private dentists – what you need to know:

  • They are almost always more expensive
  • They can provide a wider range of treatments, including cosmetic procedures
  • There is no fixed scale of charges so it is worth shopping around
  • If you register as a private patient you cannot ask to pay NHS rates with that dentist.

Choosing your dentist

You do not have to choose the dentist closest to your home. You can choose the one which suits you best.

To find out which surgeries are accepting NHS patients visit

Problems finding an NHS dentist

Help is available if you are unable to find a dentist accepting NHS patients. Call NHS England’s Customer Contact Centre on 0300 311 2233 for advice. You should only do this if you have tried to register with more than one dentist.

In an emergency

If you are not registered with a dentist and have an emergency you can call 111 for advice. An emergency is when you have severe pain, severe bleeding or severe swelling.


You are eligible for free NHS dental treatment if you are:

  • Under 18, or under 19 and in full-time education
  • Under 20 and the dependant of someone on low income benefits
  • Pregnant or have had a baby in the last 12 months
  • Being treated in an NHS hospital and your treatment is carried out by the hospital dentist
  • Receiving low income benefits

NHS charges (correct as of August 2023, subject to change)

If you are not eligible for free treatment this is what you will have to pay towards your care:

Type of treatment


What it covers



Pain relief, temporary fillings

Band 1


Examination, diagnosis, advice, scale and polish if clinically needed, preventative care

Band 2


Everything listed in Band 1 plus fillings, root canals or removal of teeth

Band 3


Everything listed in Bands 1 and 2 plus crowns, dentures, bridges and other laboratory work


These charges should be displayed in your dentist’s reception.

Cosmetic treatments are not covered by the NHS. Many dentists now offer private aesthetic treatments. Before agreeing to any treatment ensure you are fully aware of their experience, training and the implications.

Private charges

If you have a private dental treatment you will have to pay for it yourself or through an insurance policy. Charges can vary so ask for an estimate of the total cost in writing before agreeing to treatment and try to get more than one quote.

NHS and private

Many dentists do both NHS funded and private work. Your dentist must tell you clearly what you can get done on the NHS and what can only be done if you pay privately.

Making the most of your appointment

Your dentist only has a limited time to see each patient. Here are some tips to help you make the most of that time.

Book in advance

Routine appointments should be booked as far in advance as possible. A routine appointment is for something like a check-up.

Turn up

Try not to miss your appointment. Aim to arrive around 10 minutes before your appointment. If you are unable to attend, or going to be late, let your dentist know.

Make sure your dentist has up-to-date contact details in case they need to get hold of you.

Be honest

Make sure your dentist knows about any health problems or allergies you have and any medications you are on. Answer questions about your lifestyle as honestly as you can. Let the dentist know if you are nervous.

Ask questions

If you are unsure about anything ask questions before you leave. If the dentist gives advice you may find it helpful to take notes.

Pay the bill

If you are struggling the surgery may be able to agree a payment plan with you.

If you are eligible for free treatment, take any documents you have supporting this to the appointment.

Dealing with anxiety

Fear or anxiety about going to the dentist is extremely common. There is no reason to be embarrassed. Below are some tips which may help you to cope with your anxiety.

Speak to your dentist

Tell your dentist your concerns. Knowing you are anxious will mean they allow enough time to put you at ease.

Ask questions

Knowing exactly what is going to happen can increase your feeling of control over the situation.

Make regular visits

Visiting the dentist regularly can help you feel more comfortable if you do end up needing a treatment.

Agree a ‘stop’ sign

A common fear is being unable to speak if you want the dentist to stop. Before your treatment begins, agree a signal which will let your dentist know you need a break.

Take someone to support you

Having someone you trust at your appointment can help you feel more comfortable.

Book an early appointment

Booking an appointment early in the day gives you less time to worry.

Listen to music

A playlist of calming music or your favourite songs could help decrease your anxiety.

Key questions to ask

Below are some questions you can ask your dentist before receiving any treatment. These questions are just a guide. If you feel there is something else you want to know ask.

About the treatment

  • Why is it happening?
  • What will it involve?
  • Who will do it?
  • Where do I need to go?
  • Are there potential complications?
  • What will happen if I don’t have it?
  • Will I be sedated? Who will do it?

Paying the bill

  • How much will the treatment cost?
  • When do I have to pay?
  • If there is a complication, who will pay to fix it?

After the treatment

  • What aftercare is involved?
  • What can I do if I am unhappy?
  • Where can I get advice after my treatment?


  • What professional insurance do you have?
  • Does the work have a guarantee?

Will my insurance cover treatment?

If you have insurance, always call your insurer to make sure you are covered before agreeing to treatment.

Can I get a second opinion?

Yes. If you are unsure whether to take your dentist’s advice you can get a second opinion. The NHS does not offer a second opinion service so you will have to pay.

What if my dentist says they cannot offer a treatment on the NHS?

If you believe your treatment should be available on the NHS you can ask your dentist to request a review by a Regional Dental Officer. They will tell you and your dentist what NHS treatment is most appropriate. The Regional Dental Officer’s decision is final.

What should I do in an emergency?

Ask for an emergency appointment. If your dentist cannot offer an emergency appointment within two days they will tell you who to contact. If you are not registered with a dentist you can call the NHS helpline on 111 for advice.


Your dentist may decide you need a treatment they are unable to offer. This might be because it requires specialist training, experience, equipment or you will need an anaesthetic which may only be available in a hospital.

If that is the case you will be given a referral to a specialist. They will decide on the best next steps for you.

Your dentist should explain what treatment is proposed, what is involved and how long you might have to wait.

You may be given a unique reference number. You can use this to track the progress of your referral at

Responses to your referral

A referral can lead to a number of different responses from the specialist. Below are the most likely responses and what you should do.

Response: The recommended treatment is not suitable.

Action: You need to go back to your dentist for an alternative.

Response: It is suitable but is not available on the NHS.

Action: Talk to your dentist about paying privately or having a different, NHS-funded treatment.

Response: It is suitable but has to be done in a surgery where the dentist has specialised training.

Action: Talk to your own dentist. They may be able to recommend someone.

Response: It is suitable but should be done in a hospital.

Action: You should automatically receive a hospital appointment.

Complaining about treatment

In the first instance you should complain to the dental practice concerned.

You have a right to complain about any treatment. You should receive a written reply.

It is always best to talk to the surgery before making a formal complaint.

If you choose to make a formal complaint you must do it within 12 months.

If you would rather not go directly to the practice, you can contact your local integrated care board (ICB), which is responsible for NHS dental services.

For more information on complaining about NHS dental treatment visit

Complaining about private treatment

The free Dental Complaints Service can help you get:

  • An explanation or apology
  • A full or partial refund of treatment fees
  • Treatment to fix the problem caused
  • A contribution towards further treatment

It cannot deal with:

  • Complaints about the ability or behaviour of a dental professional
  • Claims for compensation

For more information visit, call 020 8253 0800, email [email protected] or write to Dental Complaints Service, Stephenson House, 2 Cherry Orchard Road, Croydon, CRO 6BA.

Getting compensation

If you want to claim compensation you will need to consider legal action. You can get a list of lawyers who specialise in dental matters from The Law Society by calling 020 7242 1222 or visiting

Complaining about an individual

If you want to complain about the ability or behaviour of a dental professional you should begin by talking to them or using the surgery’s complaint system.

If your complaint is serious or you think the person is not fit to practice, you can report them to the General Dental Council.

What is the General Dental Council?

The General Dental Council regulates dentists and dental care professionals in the United Kingdom. Anybody who wants to work in the UK as a dentist or dental care professional must be registered with the council.

Will I have to pay?

No. The General Dental Council will investigate your complaint free of charge.

What can it do?

The council can use a variety of sanctions including:

  • Striking that person off the register so they cannot work
  • Suspending them for a set period of time
  • Setting conditions which restrict their work
  • Giving the person a reprimand.

How can I get in touch?

For more information visit, call 020 7167 6000, or write to General Dental Council, 37 Wimpole Street, London, W1G 8DQ.

What if I am still unhappy?

If you are still unhappy after going through the formal complaints system you can contact the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman. They will not investigate unless your dental professional has had the chance to put things right. They cannot investigate while a complaint is open to legal action.

For more information visit or call the helpline on 0345 015 4033.

Further support

Useful websites – private dental treatment complaints – free and impartial advice from the Oral Health Foundation – track the progress of your dental referral – complaints about a dental professional – information and support for patients – useful information on finding a dentist, charges, and complaints


Source material for the information contained in this leaflet is available on request.

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If you still need help or information, our team might be able to help - details of how to contact them below.

Find out more about us and the work we do.

Contact the Patients Association helpline

The Patients Association offers a free national helpline providing specialist information and advice to help patients make sense of their health and social care.  

Patients can talk directly to trained advisers in strict confidence about any concerns, questions or general experiences they have regarding the NHS and social care systems.  

The helpline is open from 9.30 am to 5pm, Monday to Friday, and calls outside these times are returned as soon as possible during opening hours. 

If you would like to contact the helpline, please call free on 0800 345 7115, or visit the Patients Association helpline page on our website for more information. 

The NHS charges information was updated on 25th August 2023