We Brits don't have the best reputation when it comes to our pearly whites, but there's really no excuse for not looking after your teeth. Not all treatments are included on the National Health Service though, so if you're unsure what you're entitled to, here's what you need to know.
What's included in NHS treatment?
First off, you should get regular check-ups where the dentist can examine your mouth, teeth and gums, and give advice about lifestyle changes or keeping your teeth clean and healthy. Though not free, these examinations are relatively cheap, and should be offered at least every six months, although it could be more frequent.
The rule of thumb is if it's clinically necessary, you can get the treatment on the NHS. That means that preventive treatment (such as scale and polish), fillings, crowns and bridges, root canal treatment and dentures are all available, as is orthodontic treatment such as teeth straightening for children and young people under the age of 18. If your dentist suggests a visit to the hygienist, check to see whether it is a clinically necessary treatment before you decide whether to pay.
Cosmetic treatments that are not considered clinically necessary - for example, teeth whitening - are not offered on the NHS. For this reason, many people decide to combine the two, getting the cheaper NHS treatment for some, and paying for a private dentist for the cosmetic work. The quality of NHS treatment should be just as high as private treatment, and provided your dentist takes NHS patients, they cannot refuse necessary treatment on the NHS and advise that you need to go private.
What are the costs?
The price of NHS dental treatment is split into three bands, depending on what is required. Band 1, which includes examination, diagnosis (including X-rays), preventive advice, scale and polish if necessary, and fissure sealant, costs £18.50. You are also entitled to urgent care. For more extensive treatment such as fillings, root canal work or extractions (band 2), you should expect to pay as much as £50.50 per treatment. And for the likes of crowns, dentures and bridges, the cost could be as much as £219. Prices may vary from region to region, though Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland all use similar banding schemes.
If you are under 18, or under 19 and in full-time education, pregnant or have had a baby within the last year, are staying in an NHS hospital where treatment is carried out by the hospital dentist, or are an NHS hospital dental service outpatient (dentures and bridges excluded), you are entitled to free treatment.
Those receiving income support, income-related employment and support allowance, income-based jobseeker's allowance, universal credit or pension credit, may not have to pay. And if you are on a low income, you may be eligible to receive financial support via the NHS Low Income Scheme, for which you will need an HC2 certificate. If you think you may qualify, visit your local Jobcentre Plus or NHS hospital to find out more and get an HC1 form to complete.
There are many NHS dentists across the country, and to find your nearest practice, you can search the NHS Choices website. This could be a dentist close to where you live, or wherever is more practical, i.e. near your workplace.
Once you're registered, it's important to be clear about what is included on the NHS and what is not, so don't be afraid to ask questions of your dentist. Make sure you know exactly what your dental problems are, what the treatment options are, and how much you will have to pay, checking what is included on the NHS and what is not. If you need substantial work done, it's worth checking how much further treatment might be should you have any problems. Some NHS dentists offer the chance to spread payments to make treatment more affordable, so do ask for a complete written breakdown of the costs involved.
Though dental treatment is not free, it's important to look after your teeth and keep your gums and mouth healthy.
Have you taken advantage of NHS dental treatment, or have you decided to go private? Leave your comments below...