What are the differences between NHS and private dental care? 

In spite of the persistent myth of bad British teeth, statistics show that people are more concerned about their oral health than ever before and they put a lot of thought into finding the best dentist for themselves and their families

In the UK, household spending on dental services has more than doubled in the past ten years and research shows that at least 61% of British adults see their dentist every year. 

When it comes to choosing oral health services in the UK, you have two options: you either make an appointment at an NHS clinic, which is free of charge, or you visit a private clinic. For most medical services, the overwhelming majority of people choose complementary clinics, but, for dentistry, it’s the other way around. Even if private clinics don’t provide services free of charge, most people go to private clinics and surveys show that they even follow their dentists if they move from the NHS to the private sector

Contrary to many myths, the preference for private clinics isn’t due to the fact that NHS dentists are less skilled or professional. You can actually find many great oral health practitioners who work in the public sector. There are, however, several differences in terms of services and patient experience that make the costs of private clinics worth it. 

Here are a few pointers to keep in mind if you’re still looking for the perfect dental clinic:

Not all dental treatments are available on the NHS 

People don’t generally like changing their doctors. Once you develop a relationship with your oral healthcare provider, you trust them because they know your history and you feel more comfortable around them. So, even if you want to go to the dentist today for a toothache or inflamed gums, you want that same doctor to be available if you need tooth whitening somewhere in the future. Unfortunately, cosmetic treatments are usually not available on the NHS. This includes services such as teeth whitening, Invisalign braces, veneers, enamel bonding, and any other treatment that only improves the appearance of your smile and isn’t clinically necessary. 

However, cosmetic treatments are one of the main reasons why people decide to go to the dentist. One study even found that half of British adults refrain from smiling because they’re self-conscious about their smile! 

It therefore comes as no surprise that patients look towards the private sector and after successfully having cosmetic treatments, they stay loyal to the same clinic for other dental services. 

Appointment flexibility 

NHS practitioners are typically available only during conventional work hours, which can be a problem for people in big cities such as London, who often work or commute during those hours. Private clinics, however, can create their own schedules and accept private appointments at flexible hours. People preferring to get private treatment in London becuase of the busy traffic and long work hours can see their dentists in the evenings or even on Saturdays. 

NHS clinics can also be overbooked because of these strict schedules, which means that patients have to get on long waiting lists. Since dentists in the private sectors have a different scheduling system, they can accept emergency same-day or next-day appointments for issues such as dental injuries, lost crowns, or broken fillings. 

Private clinics don’t have funding restrictions 

Clinics that work with the NHS have to respect certain restrictions in terms of treatments and materials. While this doesn’t necessarily mean that their services are low quality, the NHS does place a stronger focus on functionality and economy, so patients don’t get the newest possible treatment available for their dental problems. NHS dentists are aware of the latest practices in oral health, and they’re up to date with advanced modern treatments, but they’re restricted by the NHS to work with certain suppliers. 

In the private sector, each clinic decides which suppliers to work with, so patients can access state-of-the-art treatments such as Invisalign or Enlighten teeth whitening. 

Specialised private clinics and the patient-focused experience 

Because of their busy schedules and fixed working hours, NHS clinics are often forced to sacrifice on patient experience. Therefore, people who made an appointment and come with a problem are treated as quickly as possible, to maximise efficiency. However, many times, this means that the doctor doesn’t have enough time to ask all the relevant details about the patient’s medical history, to answer their questions, address their concerns, or discuss various treatment options. Considering that many people have dental anxiety and even dental phobia, it’s understandable that this approach isn’t exactly popular. 

Many private clinics are trying to change what going to the dentist looks like and redefine the doctor-patient relationship. The first difference lies in the time that a private dentist can allocate to each patient. Consultations feel warmer, more personal and more reassuring, with dentists taking the time to understand what the patient wants, explaining the details of their condition and what the treatment involves. There is even a trend in luxury private dental care, where clinics invest in high-end décor to make the whole process look less intimidating. For patients with dental anxiety, or even families with small children who fear the dentist, this approach is extremely beneficial and it can motivate people to pursue good oral health habits. In the case of children’s dentistry, for instance, the experience kids have in private clinics leads to fewer skipped routine check-ups and better oral hygiene into adulthood. 

With this flexibility also comes the possibility to cater for specialised needs. For example, private family dentistry clinics have become very popular, because the entire family can benefit from quality services and the staff can respond to the needs of children as well as those of adults. 

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