The thought of visiting the dentist fills many people with dread - and not just because of the potential for pain and the thought of someone routing about in your mouth.
The cost of dental treatment can add up even if you are lucky enough to find an NHS dentist.
In this guide, Moneywise explains what you are entitled to as an NHS dental patient and how to complain when things go wrong.
Finding a dentist
Everyone can join an NHS dentist, and you do not have to undergo any dental or medical examination prior to registering. The best way to find an NHS dentist is by entering your postcode on the NHS Choices website.
As an NHS dental patient you have the right to stop treatment you aren’t happy with and to refuse to pay for treatment that isn’t satisfactory. You also have the right to a free second opinion, although if this is sought privately your costs will not be covered by the NHS. You will also have access to emergency treatment within 24 hours.
You are also entitled to see your records and x-rays free of charge. And if you miss your appointment, your NHS dentist is not allowed to charge you for this.
You can also choose to pay for private dental treatment, either through an NHS dentist or another practice. The cost of treatments will vary, but you may be given access to a wider range of treatment and cosmetic dentistry.
For example, white fillings on your back teeth are now available on the NHS, but you can opt for pay for this privately.
Changes to payments
New rules introduced in April 2006 reformed the way dentists are paid for the work they carry out on patients. Previously, dentist were paid by the number of treatments carried out – which critics said encouraged a ‘drill and fill’ culture.
However, the new dental contract aimed to increase access to NHS dental care and to allow dentists to focus on preventative work by paying them a flat salary.
The cost of visiting an NHS dentist
There are three standard charges for all dental treatment carried out on the NHS.
According to NHS Choices, most courses of treatment cost £16.50 or £45.60, and the maximum charge for a complex course of treatment is £198.
Help with paying for dental care
People aged under the age of 18, or those who are 18 and are still in full-time education, do not have to pay for dental care. Pregnant women or those who have had a baby in the 12 months before treatment starts also qualify for free NHS treatment.
Free NHS dental care is also offered to people on income support, income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance or income-related employment and support allowance; people with pension credit guarantee credit; and people named on or entitled to an NHS tax credit exemption certificate. People named on a valid HC2 certificate also have dental charges waived.
Dental treatment is also free if carried out by an NHS hospital dentist while you are an NHS inpatient or an NHS hospital dental service outpatient. However, some treatments such as dentures and bridges may carry a charge.
Partial help paying for NHS dental treatment is available to some people. See the NHS Choices website for more information.
What treatment is available on the NHS?*
* Examination and assessment
* Non-surgical treatment including scaling, polishing, periodontal (gum) treatments, marginal fillings and oral hygiene instruction
* Surgical treatments such as wisdom and other tooth removal
* Fillings and root canal fillings
* Other treatments such as bridges, veneers, crowns, inlays, dentures and disease management
How to complain
You shouldn’t have to pay for any dental treatment that is unsatisfactory. However, if a dispute arises between you and your dentist, then you have the right to complain.
Any issues should always be taken up with the practice; it’s worth speaking to the dentist or manager first in person but if this fails to provide an acceptable solution you should put your grievances down in writing.
If communications with your dentist prove fruitless, then the next step is to contact your local Primary Care Trust. You can do this on the NHS Choice website.
For support and help during the complaint process, you can contact the Patient Advice and Liaison Services.
If these avenues still fail to resolve your dispute, you have the right to request the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman look into your case.
If you are concerned about whether or not your dentist is fit to treat patients, you could contact the the Dental Complaints Service, run by the General Dental Council, as it can remove dentist from the register.
* Source: DirectGov