24 September 2018

In the UK we have many choices when it comes to choosing how we look after our mouths. This includes what type of treatment we have and importantly how we pay for it.

Sometimes understanding what the best payment option is can be confusing. So, to help make everything a bit clearer, we have investigated the pros and cons of the payment choices out there to help get you fully clued-up.

NHS Patient Charges - The costs set by the government for NHS dental treatment. These differ depending on where you are in the UK. In England there are three bands ranging from £21.60 to £256.50 and in Wales there are also three bands with costs ranging from £14 to £195 depending on the level of treatment needed.

Scotland and Northern Ireland operate under the old NHS cost system and prices vary. The maximum charge for a single course of NHS treatment in Scotland and Northern Ireland is £390.

Pros: These charges are set by the government and help you know exactly what you will have to pay for your treatment. There are also some people who can have NHS dental treatment for free. These include people on certain benefits, such as income support or income-based jobseeker's allowance, children up to the age of 18 (or 19 if they continue in full time education), and pregnant women and mothers up until their child is one year old. 

Cons: You may have to wait a while for an NHS dentist appointment in areas of high demand and if you don’t attend an appointment a dentist can choose not to continue treating you in the future. You can only get certain treatments, such as silver fillings and crowns, root canals and extractions which are designed to leave you ‘dentally fit’. You therefore must pay for anything not covered under NHS guidelines. This includes things like white fillings, some crowns, bridges and implants. The NHS charge only covers one ‘course of treatment’ and a new charge is made if you start a new course of treatment.

To find out what you would be pay as an NHS dental patient click here.

Cash Plans - A monthly payment plan which reimburses either all or a proportion of what you pay for treatment either NHS or privately up to a set amount.

Pros: Any treatment you have, you get money back up to a specified amount. This can be for the full cost or a part of the cost of treatment.  Usually, over a year, you can claim for far more than you end up paying for the plan. Cash plans help spread costs over a longer time and are especially good for any expensive or unplanned treatment. There are usually no qualifying periods, so you can claim straight away. Some workplaces offer cash plans as a benefit, this means you don’t end up paying for the plan yourself.  

Cons: If you don’t need any treatment, they can work out to be expensive. However, the plans do cover other types of medical expenses, such as opticians, osteopathy etc. Some plans may not be enough to cover your total bill or all treatments over a period of time, but they can help reduce what you pay to a more manageable amount. You must pay first then claim the cost back. If this is a high amount, then it may put you in debt until the claim is processed.

Private Dental Insurance - A monthly plan which means you pay your dentist for any treatment received and then claim the money back from the insurer.

Pros: Dental insurance covers you if you have a dental emergency or accident, which could be expensive. Many insurance policies also cover you for accident or emergency abroad, so are good if you travel a lot. You can often choose to pay monthly or annually to suit you, and insurance can provide peace of mind if you're worried about having to pay large bills.

Cons: Dental insurance can be expensive depending on your own health and history. Some dental insurance policies cap the cost of private dental treatment at around 50%, which leaves you more to pay. Most policies have qualifying period, from one-to-six months, and depending on the policy, you might not be able to claim for treatment during this time. If you were to be diagnosed with cancer, this would not be covered by most new policies. Always check what your plan does cover to make sure it suits you.

Dental Payment Plan (Capitation Plan) – A payment plan offered by a dentist which allows you to pay a monthly amount towards any treatment received.

Pros: With a dental payment plan, or capitation plan, you pay a regular monthly amount, which can be an effective way to spread the costs. Costs are usually based on the existing state of your mouth and how much treatment you’ve previously had. There are lots of types of plan, these may just cover basic treatment or all the treatment you need. Most plans are suited to your personal needs and can be altered depending on what kind of treatment you will receive over the qualifying period.

Cons: Some people get confused about what is included in their plan and what isn’t – so it’s always best to check before signing anything. If you don’t go to the dentist as often as they recommend, you will not get the most value out of the plan. Sometimes it can be difficult to move your plan if you need to move dentists.

Private Dentistry – Dental treatment which is not provided under an NHS contract and not subject to government price caps.

Pros: Private dentistry has many positives. You won’t usually have to wait very long for an appointment and it can be easier to get one that fits around your schedule.

You only pay for treatment that you get, and any level of treatment is entirely up to you. If you choose to have treatment which is unavailable on NHS, then that’s no problem if you can pay for it. You are also given the ability to ‘shop around’; different dental practices have different prices for similar treatments, so you can compare and choose what is best for you in terms of price and dentist, although each practice will generally make a charge for the examination.

You can also get cosmetic treatments, such as invisible braces and tooth whitening, through private dentistry – something which you very rarely get though the NHS unless there is a medical need.  

Cons: The main problem with opting to have private treatment is the cost involved. Many treatments that are unavailable on the NHS like white fillings, some crowns, bridges and implants can cost a significant amount at a private practice. These prices will differ between practices, so you may choose to shop around.