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NHS dental services explained

What's available on the NHS?

The NHS will provide any treatment that you need to keep your mouth, teeth and gums healthy and free of pain. Decisions about which treatment is appropriate for you will be based upon a clinical assessment and clinical judgement. Your NHS dentist will offer you a treatment option that is clinically appropriate.

Your dentist must make clear to you which treatments can be provided under the NHS and which can only be provided on a private basis so you can make an informed choice. Where alternative private options have been considered then your treatment plan should detail these options. You'll be asked to sign the plan and you'll be given a copy to keep. 

TipUnder the current arrangements, your dentist has to provide you with a written treatment plan for Band 2, Band 3 or a mix of NHS and private treatments.Your treatment plan sets out the proposed dental treatment. Treatment plans are usually not given for Band 1 or urgent dental treatments, but you can ask for one if you like.

If you decide not to proceed with a certain treatment option then inform your dentist. Likewise, the dentist should inform you of any changes to the treatment plan as proposed treatment can sometimes change on further investigation or due to changes in your oral health following the initial assessment. Any changes to treatment should be discussed and agreed with you.


If you are unhappy with the NHS dental care you have received, speak or write to your dental practice first. If you're not satisfied with the way the dentist has dealt with your complaint then you can take your complaint to the independent Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman. Find out more about the NHS complaints procedure.
TipWhere possible discuss your concerns with the dental practice first. Most issues can be resolved without you having to make a formal complaint. Try having an informal chat with your dentist or a member of staff first. A formal complaint takes time and minor issues are resolved quicker if you just speak to a person face to face, however if you are not comfortable with contacting the dental practice directly then you can contact NHS England.

For more serious cases you can also contact the General Dental Council (GDC) for advice. The GDC protects all dental patients, both private and NHS. If you're concerned that a dentist’s ability or behaviour is below standard, you can report a dental professional online on the GDC website. The GDC will investigate concerns about:

  • very poor treatment
  • not having professional indemnity insurance
  • cross-infection issues such as using dirty equipment
  • being under the influence of drink or drugs
  • fraud or theft

Common dental treatments available on the NHS


Crowns and bridges

Crowns and bridges are available on the NHS (Band 3, £222.50). As with all restoration treatments, they may need to be replaced in the future. They can also be provided privately. For example, you may be offered a metal coloured crown on a back tooth to help restore the tooth from a functional perspective. You could discuss with your dentist what alternative cosmetic options can be offered privately and the risks and benefits of these to help you make an informed decision.

TipAlso see the section about:


Dental abscesses

A dental abscess is a collection of pus that can form in the teeth or gums as a result of a bacterial infection. Dental abscesses can be treated on the NHS. If you feel unwell or have a large swelling in your face or mouth, your dentist may refer you to a specialist unit for treatment. This treatment will also be on the NHS.

Dentures (false teeth)

Dentures are removable false teeth made of acrylic (plastic) or metal. Dentures are available on the NHS (Band 3, £222.50).

TipAlso read the sections:



Orthodontics is a type of dental treatment that aims to improve the appearance, position and function of crooked or abnormally arranged teeth.

There is a standard method for assessing whether orthodontic treatment is clinically necessary and available on the NHS. Treatment for minor irregularities is not provided by the NHS.

Your dentist or orthodontist will be able to explain to you what alternative options exist if you or your child do not qualify for NHS funded orthodontic treatment. 
TipYou cannot mix NHS and private treatment in orthodontics. The British Orthodontic Society offers patient information about general orthodontics as well as information aimed at adults and teenagers.

You can also find information about orthodontics on this site, including specific information about braces.

Root canal treatment (endodontics)

Root canal treatment is a dental procedure to treat infection at the centre of a tooth (the root canal system). This treatment is available on the NHS (Band 2, £51.30). Your dentist should be able to provide it for you or, where the treatment is complex, refer you to a practitioner with additional skills. The dentist should always discuss with you in advance whether treatment will be provided on the NHS or privately.

Some dental practices may have a visiting specialist coming in to see patients on a private basis and you may be offered an option to see this specialist privately as an alternative to being referred on the NHS. It will be your choice whether you opt for the private treatment with this specialist or to be referred to an NHS specialist service. 


Scale and polish

If your dentist says that scaling is clinically required, then this is available on the NHS. A simple scaling should be treatment Band 1, however, more complex treatment for gum problems may be charged with Band 2.

TipMany dental hygienists now work under direct access where you can request to see the hygienist directly for a scale or polish. Hygienists can only provide this open access on a private basis and you should check the cost of the treatment when booking an appointment.

If your dentist says a scale and polish is not clinically necessary, but you want one anyway then you will have to pay for it privately.




Wisdom teeth

Wisdom teeth can be removed on the NHS when clinically necessary. Your dentist will assess the need for removal based on guidelines from the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE). Your dentist may perform the procedure or may refer you to a dentist with additional experience. You'll be charged with a Band 2 (£51.30) treatment course. Your dentist can also refer you for private wisdom teeth treatment if you wish.

White fillings

Where clinically appropriate, white fillings are available on the NHS and are generally charged as Band 2. For example, if you need a filling in one of your front teeth (incisors and canines) the filling material of choice may be a white filling. If the filling is in on one of your back teeth (such as molars and premolars) then for a large filling the more clinically effective option may be an amalgam filling (a silver coloured material).

Your dentist should explain the options to you in advance. If you prefer to have the white filling or any other cosmetic filling options, your dentist will be able to advise you on the private costs for such treatments and the risks and benefits associated with it. 


The 18 comments posted are personal views. Any information they give has not been checked and may not be accurate.

simonreid said on 23 October 2015

Is it common practise for NHS Dental patients to be charged upfront prior to being seen ?

Why am I as an NHS patient being charged at a private rate or dental hygiene services ? Is this normal practice for NHS patients ?

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User1006564 said on 24 September 2015

NHS dentsitry is the biggest con ever!

I went to an "So called" NHS dentist all they want to do is sell me private dentistry.

I had an severe abcess under a previously root canalled tooth to the point my face inflated to double its size. I was told that they could not do anything because they did not have a microscope and the only way was for them to refer me to another private dentistry for treatment. I was charged £640 for this even though your website says I should not have been!

I still dont have a crown on that tooth and they now want to charge me another £450 to replace the one damaged when the tooth was re-root canalled!

They have even said that you cannot get a Gold CAP or porcelain cap on the NHS and the only way you can get one is privately and i can only get a metal filling on the NHS!

I have paid National insureance for my whole life! I might as well have burned the money.

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Candy Banag said on 18 June 2015

Where I can find NHS DENTIST here in Easbourne? As I would like to Bridges & crown. How about dental in - plant. Are they expensive NHS deal?

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C4RT said on 18 December 2013

Please may I have some advice. I am 5 months pregnant and in receipt of a maternity exemption certificate. Early in my pregnancy I lost half a tooth, the remainder half went approximately two weeks ago. I have just attended my dentist who advised that my only options are a) remove remainder of the tooth root and have a gap, b) have a denture (cost covered by nhs), c) have a 'fixed' bridge at a cost of £700 or d) have an impant costing in excess of £2,000.

I am a little confused and concerned as I cannot find any research that differentiates between a 'fixed' and standard bridge, and a standard fixed bridge, according to the nhs website, should be covered by my exemption certificate and I should therefore not have to pay the £700 fee as advised.

Can you please let me know whether the advice provided to me is correct? I am somewhat upset that my only options covered by the nhs are a gap or a denture.

Many thanks

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precision said on 09 October 2013

Nhs dentistry has become a free marketing plan for dentists. Expect to pay.

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daveros89 said on 12 August 2013

Hi im 24 years old and suffer from epilepsy when I have a seizure my jaw clamps shut causing quite serious damage to my teeth and tongue I have also chipped teeth when falling during a seizure I feel like I need serious dental treatment to repair and replace a few teeth, I am wondering if I have any options available to me on the nhs since I am only 24 I cannot afford private care. Any information would be greatly appreciated.

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vicky l davies said on 24 July 2013

Hi, I'm 23 years of age and have a very crooked tooth at the front of my teeth, my dentist is really nice but he told me he couldn't help me with my problem, I'm no longer working and would need to pay 2500 pound to have a. Race fitted, money I wish I had, I recently went to my doctor about my depression due to my teeth hoping he would be able to refer me to the hospital to have them straightend on the nhs, but he just told me he could only get me help on the emotional side of it. I feel as though I look disgusting, I try not to smile and feel I have very little confidence to go out and it drives my partner crazy, is there anyone or anything that could help me get this sorted out?
I would greatly appreciate some feed back,
Many thanks
Vikcy L Davies.

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ujpest said on 03 July 2013

I am happy with my dentist but not the associated hygienist. I therefore go to another practice for the hygienist service, which is actually provided by a dentist. However, this dentist says that she is required to do a checkup as well, even though she knows I have a dentist and see him regularly.

Is this correct?

She then charges £26 for the hygiene (20 minutes) and another £22 for the checkup. I think she wants rid of me!

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c_jay said on 19 May 2013

User732273: "6. A scale and polish do not necessarily come together. you may have a scale to remove then tart and not a polish as the later would be for staining which is again, cosmetic."

LOL Dentists should stop looking for loopholes in order to rip off people! You are wrong cos according to NHS guidelines: if your dentist recommends S&P no part of that should come under "cosmetic" ( which is code name for "private treatment")

"If your dentist recommends a scale and polish, it should be provided under the NHS (Band 1, £18), whether it is done by a dentist or a hygienist. If your dentist says a scale and polish is not clinically necessary but you want one anyway, you will have to pay to have it privately.

<b>An NHS scale and polish should be carried out as thoroughly as a private one.</b>"

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User732273 said on 13 March 2013

This is a good information leaflet about when you should go to see the dentist.

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User732273 said on 13 March 2013

1. You will only be 'entitled' to a scale and polish if it is clinically necessary. Similarly, if you went to the optician, you would only be 'entitled' to glasses if you needed them.
2. If it is stain removal that you are after, a dentist can decline to provide you this under the NHS as it is considered cosmetic treatment.
3. If you have not been brushing your teeth and there is a lot of plaque around (not tartar), then the dentist will give you advice on how to brush, not do it for you, that's you job. So you may not get a scale and polish.
4. Only if there is tartar build up, which is causing gum problems then you will be entitled to have it removed under the NHS as part of your exam.
5. If you want the dentist to spend more time cleaning your teeth, and there is no clinical indication to do so, then you will also be asked to see the hygienist.
6. A scale and polish do not necessarily come together. you may have a scale to remove then tart and not a polish as the later would be for staining which is again, cosmetic.
7. Finally, to answer a point that was raised earlier, if your dentists recommends that you come say every 6 months, and you decide you want to come every 3 months, they can refuse to see you under the NHS in those extra visits as once again, it is unnecessary.

Hope that helps.

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SRH7 said on 17 January 2013

Kathie1404: Many dentists only do scale and polish as and when necessary, so it will be down to your opinion versus the clinician's opinion as to whether you need it. I probably have one every three years, and that's fine with me as I think my teeth don't need it any more than that (I don't smoke, use an electric toothbrush and floss, which seems to keep plaque in check). If there is plaque build-up that can't be removed by brushing the dentist should do a S&P but if it's just stains they they shouldn't as this is not covered in the NHS contract (considered to be cosmetic rather than a risk to the health of your teeth). The different opinions on the crown is a worry and definitely needs raising. First up, speak to the practice manager. Secondly, if you are not satisfied with the response, contact your local primary care trust's PALS/customer care team (do this soon as after 31 March 2013 the responsibility will have moved to your new GP-led clinical commissioning group so where customer care sits may be a bit more hazy). Hope this helps (I used to work in the NHS, so familiar with the system!)

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kathie1404 said on 01 December 2012

I have been going to my current NHS dentist for in excess of 20 years and every six months have been given a scale and polish as part of the check up. My fist visit this year (new dentist, same practice) said I didn't need one but did say I needed a crown on a tooth that was causing no problems whatsoever!. Second visit (another new dentist) yes I did have stained teeth but no plaque build up (I would disagree about the plaque) would have to pay privately at a cost of £50 or £100. Crown being needed never mentioned! Found out practice has changed hands, I did question this and was told the policy changed in 2008. Why then from 2008-2011 did I receive my 6monthly S&P as part of my treatment? I suspect they are now trying to make money rather than providing the great service I have always had in 20yrs previous.
Any thoughts/comments anyone? I'm taking the scale and polish thing up with the manager next week.

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charlie_s said on 08 August 2012

There seems to be a lot of confusion over S&P. As it says above the dentist will provide treatment that is "clinically necessary" so if a S&P is not clinically necessary i.e if you don't need one, the dentist does not have to do one. There's no such thing as being entitled to a S&P.

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L150 said on 09 July 2012

Dentists always recommend seeing the hygienist because they cannot be bothered to do a S&P and plus the hygienist can charge you more. You should always refuse to see the hygienist as is your right (unless your teeth are really bad!) and demand that your dentist does a scale and polish themselves, then I believe they have to. Hygienists are a bit of a scam really since they don't do anything different to what any normal dentist can do.

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Fresh Breath said on 21 June 2012

Please could you answer a query on S&P, I used to get my two checks ups a year which entitled me to S&P as part of the cost and then I asked If I could have a S&P in between. In effect every 3 months. My dentist at the time said it was ok and for 2 years I had that arrangement.
She left and the owners reversed that arrangement...!!!
Are they right to do that?
Can I have those 2 extra S&P's @ £17.50 under NHS rules or not.

Many thanks

Fresh Breath

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polomint said on 27 April 2012


Scale and Polish is avaliable from your dentist, and if they are telling you they're unable to do it then you should put in a formal complaint against them.

Otherwise, they may be suggesting you need an extensive S+P, to which case the hygenist would be the best treatment for you as they are usually allocated a longer appointment time than the dentist, and it is the area of work they specialise in.

Seeing a hygenist is a private treatment and is not avaliable on the NHS, so you will neither find an NHS Hygenist or be able to bill the dentist after seeing a Private one.

Hope this is helpful.
(I work in a dental practice and this is correct information as far as I know)

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clichoid said on 05 April 2012

I'd like someone to answer this question, relating to the provision of: "scale and polish, an appointment with the dental hygienist". My dentist says I must have this, but won't do it herself and says that I must go to a dental hygienist.

What do I do if I cannot find an NHS hygienist?

Do I use a private one and bill the dentist?

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Page last reviewed: 26/01/2015

Next review due: 26/01/2017

Not available on the NHS

The NHS will not provide cosmetic treatment options such as teeth whitening, which you may want to make your teeth more attractive but which are not clinically necessary. Even where treatment is clinically necessary the dentist will offer you a treatment option that is clinically appropriate. If you choose to have alternative treatment options then you will have to pay privately for these.


NHS dental charges

  • Emergency dental treatment - £18.80
  • Band 1 course of treatment - £18.80
  • Band 2 course of treatment - £51.30
  • Band 3 course of treatment - £222.50

For more information see NHS dental charges explained.


Tooth facts

Your teeth are vital to your overall health, helping you to bite and chew your food. Get to know them a bit better

NHS complaints

If you're not happy with the care you've received, you have the right to complain. Find out how

Children's teeth

From brushing their first tooth to their first trip to the dentist, here's how to take care of your children's teeth