The NHS will provide any clinically necessary treatment needed to keep your mouth, teeth and gums healthy and free of pain.
Decisions about which treatment is appropriate will be based on a clinical assessment and clinical judgement.
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.
If you decide to choose alternative private options, this should be included in your treatment plan. You'll be asked to sign the plan and be given a copy to keep.
Ask the dentist to explain in more detail the reason behind the treatment options being proposed.
You should feel properly informed before any treatment is undertaken, including about the clinical risks and benefits.
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 and associated costs.
Treatment plans are usually not given for Band 1 or urgent dental treatments, but you can ask for one if you like.
Inform your dentist if you decide not to proceed with a certain treatment option.
Likewise, the dentist should inform you of any changes to the treatment plan.
Sometimes a proposed treatment can change on further investigation or as a result of changes in your oral health after the initial assessment.
Any changes to treatment should be discussed and agreed with you.
If you're not happy with the treatment or service you have had, it's usually best to tell the practice directly that you're unhappy and give them a chance to put things right.
They may be able to sort out the problem there and then.
If you need to make a more formal complaint to the practice, ask for a copy of the policy that explains what you need to do.
If you'd like support to make a complaint, you can get help from an NHS Complaints Advocate.
Contact your local Healthwatch to find out who provides Independent Health Complaints Advocacy in your local area.
If you'd rather not go directly to the practice, you can contact NHS England instead.
NHS England is responsible for commissioning (buying) NHS dental services.
If you're not happy with the way your formal complaint was handled – either by the dental practice or NHS England, if you chose to go to them – you can go to the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman (PHSO).
The Ombudsman makes the final decision on complaints that have not been resolved by the NHS in England.
Complaints about private dental treatments
If you had private dental treatment and an informal approach does not solve the problem, ask for a copy of the complaints procedure.
Any private dental practice must have one.
If you have already made a formal approach to the practice and the problem has not been resolved, you can contact the Dental Complaints Service (DCS).
The DCS provides a free and impartial service to help private dental patients and dental professionals settle complaints about private dental care fairly and efficiently.
Safety concerns about a dentist or practice
If the problem is so serious that you think the dental professional could be a risk to other patients, you should contact the General Dental Council (GDC), which regulates dental professionals in the UK.
If the issue is serious enough, the GDC can stop individual dentists from practising.
The GDC does not get involved in complaints being managed locally. It does not resolve complaints or award compensation.
If the problem is so serious that you think the care provided at the practice could be a risk to other patients, the Care Quality Commission (CQC) would like to know about it.
The CQC cannot investigate individual complaints, but its inspectors use this information when they inspect services to make sure they're meeting quality and safety standards
Common dental treatments available on the NHS
Crowns and bridges
Crowns and bridges are available on the NHS (Band 3, £269.30).
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.
Also see the sections on:
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, £269.30).
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.
You 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.
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, £62.10).
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 whether treatment will be provided on the NHS or privately with you in advance.
Some dental practices may have a visiting specialist coming in to see patients on a private basis.
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 be referred to an NHS specialist service.
Scale and polish
If your dentist says scaling is clinically required, this is available on the NHS.
This can be provided by a hygienist or dental therapist.
A simple scaling is included in a Band 1 course of treatment, but more complex treatment for gum problems may be charged within a Band 2 course of treatment.
Many 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 before booking an appointment.
If your dentist says a scale and polish is not clinically necessary but you want one anyway, you will have to pay for it privately.
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 refer you to a dentist with additional experience.
You'll be charged with a Band 2 (£62.10) treatment course.
Your dentist can also refer you for private wisdom teeth treatment if you wish.
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 one of your back teeth (such as molars and premolars), 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.
Page last reviewed: 31 January 2017
Next review due: 31 January 2020