Even if you can find an NHS practitioner, your dental care is unlikely to be
Dealing with the dentist
NHS dentists can be harder to find than hen's teeth, but paying to go private can soon wipe the smile off your face.
Even if you can find an NHS practitioner, your dental care is unlikely to be free, unless you are a child, a pregnant woman, a mother with a child under a year old or receive certain means-tested benefits. NHS treatment is charged in three bands, where a routine examination including x-rays costs £17, but further fillings for example come in at £47, while crowns, dentures and bridges tip the scale at £204.
Yet with the costs of private dental treatment in England among the highest in Europe, a private dentist is likely to be significantly more expensive.
Spreading the cost with a capitation plan
The most common version likely to be offered by your dentist is a capitation plan. With a capitation scheme, your dentist examines your teeth, works out what your treatment is likely to cost during the year, and then spreads the bill into fixed monthly payments. The amount paid will therefore depend entirely on the state of your teeth and the individual dentist.
Denplan Essentials covers preventative dental care such as examinations, x-rays and basic hygiene treatments like a scrape and polish, while Denplan Care also includes additional treatments such as crowns and fillings. Neither scheme covers orthodontics or cosmetic dentistry such as teeth whitening. Costs depend on the individual patient and dentist, but according to Denplan the monthly fees range from £12.30 to £36.72 on Denplan Care, and from £11.93 to £17.08 with Denplan Essentials.
Claiming money back with a cash plan
Another way of drilling down your dentist's bill is to use a cash plan, whether a specific dental cash plan or a broader health plan that might contribute towards not just visits to the dentist, but also to the optician, osteopath and physiotherapist, for example.
With a cash plan, offered by companies such as AXA PPP, BHSF, Bupa, Engage Mutual, Simplyhealth and WPA, you pay a certain amount each month, and in exchange you get refunded for a proportion of your costs, up to an annual limit.
So, for example, the Simply Dental Plan from Simplyhealth will repay bills including 100% of check ups, 75% of scale and polish and 50% of treatments – but only up to your chosen annual limits. The cheapest Level 1 costs £7.50 a month, but in exchange you won’t get back more than for example £25 a year towards check ups, or £200 towards treatments, which could still leave you with big bills to pay. Level 4 has the highest annual allowances – up to £100 on check ups and £800 towards treatments – but you have to fork out £22.50 a month.
You are not tied to a specific dentist but watch out for restrictions on when you can start claiming. Reimbursements for check ups and emergencies might be possible from the day you sign up, but for treatments you may face a qualifying period of for example one month with WPA’s NHS Top-Up healthcare cash plan, or three months with the Simply Dental Plan.
Also, remember that you won't get any money back unless you fill in the paperwork after your visit. Charlie MacEwan from insurer WPA said: "Don’t forget to take a claim form when you go to the dentist so you can get it signed there and then, and make sure you send it off to your scheme provider."
Paying the premiums for an insurance policy
The third alternative is dental insurance, which typically contributes towards routine treatment, dental emergencies and serious dental problems, but will rarely cover for example pre-existing conditions or cosmetic dentistry.
Unlike a capitation plan, which will be tied to a specific dentist, you can choose to be treated by any dentist. However, you are likely to pay higher premiums for treatment with a private dentist rather than on the NHS.
Policies are available from companies including AXA PPP (which also provides Tesco Dental Insurance), Boots, Dencover, WPA and Bupa, which launched its Dental Cover 10 and 20 policies in December last year.
So for example WPA's Providental policy starts from £9.50 a month, with no need for a dental examination before applying, provided you have visited a UK dentist within the last 18 months. Level 1 covers 100% of routine NHS treatments, up to 75% of dental emergencies capped at £250 per episode, and annual maximums of £10,000 for dental injuries and £10,000 for oral cancer.
Again, to avoid financial pain, check the small print on what is – and isn't – covered, and how long you need to wait before treatment.
Cash plans or insurance policy?
Whether a cash plan or a dental insurance policy will prove most cost effective is often driven by the state of your teeth. Mr MacEwan said: "If you only go to the dentist once a year and have no problems with your teeth, I would recommend a cash plan.
"However, if for example you need to go to the dentist a couple of times a year, see the hygienist and are likely to need treatment that exceeds the cash plan limits, then consider insurance."