Dentists in the UK are free to charge what they like for private work, and the result is a huge variation in the cost of treatment across the country. An investigation has revealed that some dentists charge four times as much as others for exactly the same treatment. And this could have a serious impact on dental health.
Which? carried out mystery shopping exercises at 25 dentist surgeries, and found that the price of an amalgam filling varied from £40 to £190 and the price of a crown from £350 to £1,100.
This backs up research last year from whatclinic.com, which found that the average cost of a check up is £36 - but varies from £15 in Bradford to £67 in Stratford-up-Avon.
The concern is that when faced with higher prices from more expensive clinics, patients could delay vital treatment until the problem is far worse. A Simplyhealth survey in 2012 found that a fifth of people were putting off visiting a dentist because they were worried about the cost, and around a fifth of them hadn't been to the dentist in 18 months.
This backs up an OFT study in 2012 which found that around 500,000 patients are paying unnecessarily for private dental treatment each year because their dentist hasn't told them that they have a right to the treatment within the NHS - at a lower cost.
To make matters worse, the Which? researchers found that half of the dentists it tested were breaking the rules, and failing to keep a price list displayed prominently in the surgery.
What can you do?
The organisation is calling on dentists to obey the rules: be clear on the differences in private and NHS treatment, and display prices prominently. However, this will only get us half way to securing a fair deal.
It's also essential to shop around for dental treatment. You need to understand what you can expect from the NHS, and if you opt for private treatment, choose carefully. You must at least compare the prices at the outset when you are selecting a private dentist. If possible, you also need to do a comparison before each treatment - to be sure you are not paying over the odds.
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