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Dental treatments

This is a guide to the main treatments carried out by dentists. Some are readily available on the NHS, while some may only be available on the NHS in certain circumstances.

As with glasses and prescription costs, you have to pay a contribution towards the cost of your NHS dental treatment.

The cost depends on the type of treatment and which cost band the treatment is covered by.

With the exception of teeth whitening, implants and veneers, the treatments on this page are usually available on the NHS.

Find out more about NHS dental charges

Always ask your dentist whether the treatment they're recommending is available on the NHS and how much it will cost before you go ahead.


A bridge is a fixed replacement for a missing tooth or teeth. It's made by taking an impression of the surrounding teeth, which will eventually support the bridge.

A bridge is usually created from precious metal and porcelain and will be fixed in your mouth (unlike dentures, which can be removed).


A crown is a type of cap that completely covers a real tooth. It's usually made from metal, porcelain fused to metal, or ceramic and is fixed in your mouth.

Crowns can be fitted where a tooth has broken, decayed or been damaged, or just to make a tooth look better.

To fit a crown, the old tooth will need to be drilled down so it's like a small peg the crown will be fixed on to.

It can take some time for the lab to prepare a new crown, so you probably will not have the crown fitted on the same day.


Fillings are used to repair a hole in a tooth caused by decay. The most common type of filling is an amalgam made from a mixture of metals including mercury, silver, tin and copper.

Your dentist will offer the most appropriate type of filling according to your clinical needs. This includes white fillings, if appropriate.

Root canal treatment

Root canal treatment (also called endodontics) tackles infection at the centre of a tooth (the root canal system).

When the blood or nerve supply of the tooth has become infected, the infection will spread and the tooth may need to be taken out if root canal treatment is not carried out.

During treatment, all the infection is removed from inside the root canal system.

The root canal is filled and the tooth is sealed with a filling or crown to stop it becoming infected again.

Root canal treatment usually requires 2 or more visits to your dentist.

Read more about root canal treatment.

Scale and polish

Scale and polish is where your teeth are professionally cleaned by the hygienist. It involves carefully removing the deposits that build up on the teeth (tartar).


Braces (orthodontic treatment) straighten or move teeth to improve the appearance of the teeth and how they work.

Braces can be removable, so you can take them out and clean them, or fixed, so they're stuck to your teeth and you cannot take them out.

They can be made of metal, plastic or ceramic. Invisible braces are made of a clear plastic.

Braces are available on the NHS for children and, occasionally, for adults, depending on the clinical need.

Read more about braces and orthodontics.

Wisdom tooth removal

The wisdom teeth grow at the back of your gums and are the last teeth to come through, usually in your late teens or early twenties.

Most people have 4 wisdom teeth, 1 in each corner.

Wisdom teeth can sometimes emerge at an angle or get stuck and only emerge partially. Wisdom teeth that grow through in this way are known as impacted.

If your wisdom teeth are impacted but are not causing any problems, they do not usually need to be removed.

But sometimes they cause problems and can be removed on the NHS. Your dentist may perform the procedure, or they may refer you to a dentist with a special interest, or to a hospital's oral and maxillofacial unit.

You'll usually have to pay a charge for wisdom tooth removal. If you're referred to a hospital for NHS treatment, you will not have to pay a charge.

Your dentist can also refer you for private wisdom teeth treatment.

Find out more about wisdom tooth removal

Dental implants

Implants are a fixed alternative to removable dentures.

You can use implants to replace just a single tooth or several teeth.

To fit an implant, titanium screws are drilled into the jaw bone to support a crown, bridge or denture.

Replacement parts take time to prepare because they need to fit your mouth and other teeth properly. This means they may not be available on your first visit to the dentist.

Implants are usually only available privately and are expensive. They're sometimes available on the NHS for patients who cannot wear dentures or whose face and teeth have been damaged, such as people who have had mouth cancer or an accident that's knocked a tooth out.

Dentures or false teeth

More commonly known as false teeth, dentures are fitted in place of natural teeth.

A full set is used to replace all your teeth. A partial set is used to replace 1 or more missing teeth.

Dentures are custom-made using impressions (mouldings) from your gums. They're usually made from metal or plastic.

They're removable, and you can clean them by soaking them in a cleaning solution.

Dentures are important if you lose your natural teeth, as losing your teeth makes it difficult to chew your food, which will adversely affect your diet and may cause your facial muscles to sag.

Read more about dentures (false teeth).

Broken or knocked out tooth

It's common to break, chip or knock out a tooth.

If the tooth is just chipped, make a non-emergency dental appointment to have it smoothed down and filled or have a crown.

If the tooth has been knocked out or is badly broken, get advice from 111 online or call 111. 

If it’s an adult (permanent) tooth, try to put the knocked out tooth back into the hole in the gum. Make sure the tooth is clean and you do not touch the root. If it does not go in easily, put it in milk or saliva.

If it’s a baby tooth, do not put it back in. It could damage the tooth growing underneath.

Read more about chipped, broken or cracked teeth or knocked out teeth.

Teeth whitening

Teeth whitening involves bleaching your teeth to make them a lighter colour.

Teeth whitening cannot make your teeth brilliant white, but it can lighten the existing colour by several shades.

Standard teeth whitening involves 2 to 3 visits to the dentist, plus sessions at home wearing a mouthguard containing bleaching gel.

You usually need to wear the mouthguard and bleaching gel for a specified period of time over a few weeks.

Another procedure called laser whitening or power whitening is done at the dentist's surgery and takes about an hour. 

Teeth whitening is cosmetic and therefore generally only available privately.

Read more about teeth whitening.

Dental veneers

Veneers are new facings for teeth that disguise a discoloured or chipped tooth.

To fit a veneer, the front of the tooth is drilled away a little.

An impression is taken, and a thin layer of porcelain is fitted over the front of the tooth (similar to how a false fingernail is applied).

Veneers are generally only available privately, unless you can show a clinical need for them.

Page last reviewed: 18 July 2022
Next review due: 18 July 2025