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Cutting the cost of a trip to the dentist

Kara Gammell / 15 July 2016 ( 02 June 2020 )

Is there a way to reduce your dentist costs, without compromising the health of your teeth?

Regular dental visits in fact save the patient money, rather than not going for many years and then having to undergo extensive dental work
Regular dental visits in fact save the patient money, rather than not going for many years and then having to undergo extensive dental work

Can you cut dentist costs?

A visit to the dentist can mean both physical and financial pain, especially if you’re over 50. 

According to research by Saga Health Insurance, for more than 13 million people, the cost of dental treatment is the worst thing about the dentist’s chair. 

What's more, four in ten people over 50 say they have had to fork out for emergency dental treatment following an accident or infection and on average they have had to pay £228.

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But is there a way to reduce your dental costs, without compromising the health of your teeth?

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With better education and dental health facilities, dentists are seeing an increase in the number of teeth retained in the over 50s. 

As these teeth are retained for longer, more restoration work is often required, including fillings, crowns and bridges, which require more upkeep and regular check-ups.

What’s more, the over-50s can sometimes be prescribed medication which can affect the gums, making them more susceptible to plaque.  

A dry mouth is also a common side effect, for instance, making the person more prone to root caries or holes near the gums.  

While medication to treat osteoporosis can impair wound healing, should any teeth need to be extracted.

“With those aged 50+, it is more important to have twice yearly check-ups, as it inevitably costs more to cure a neglected mouth than to treat any tooth or gum issues at the early stage,” said Raha Sepehrara, principal dentist at Dental Suite clinics.

“The cost of regular dental visits do in fact save the patient money, rather than not going for many years and then having to undergo extensive dental work.”

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Here are your options when considering dentist costs and treatments:

NHS dental treatment

Private dental treatment can cost hundreds, if not thousands of pounds for more complicated work, making NHS care by far the cheapest option if you're able to get it. However research by Hudgell Solitictors found that 32% of people surveyed had avoided the dentist as they can't afford the fees. 

NHS dental charges changed in April 2019 and are separated into three charge bands (treatment in Scotland has a different way of charging - for more details, visit NHS Inform):

Band 1 treatment (including examination, diagnosis and advise, as well as x-rays, scale and polish and any planning for further treatment) costs £22.70 in England, £14.30 in Wales

Band 2 treatment (including all Band 1 treatment and additional treatment like fillings, root canals and teeth extractions) costs £62.10 in England, £46 in Wales

Band 3 treatment (including all Bands 1 and 2 treatment and complicated procedures like crowns, dentures and bridges) costs £269.30 in England, £199.10 in Wales

Who gets free NHS dental care?

Completely free dental care on the NHS is available only to pregnant women, new mothers, children up to 18 and some living on benefits – everyone else pays.

The NHS dental contract also states that NHS patients who get treatments like fillings, inlays or crowns are also entitled to have this repaired or replaced within 2 months, at no extra charge.

To see what's available in your area, visit one of the following: go to NHS England and click on Find a dentist; choose Dentist on the Local Services Search for NHS Direct Wales; in Scotland NHS Inform has a list of dental practices; and for Northern Ireland use the Find a Dentist lists on HSC Business Organisation. 

If you can't find one accepting NHS patients in England, call NHS England's Customer Contact Centre on 0300 311 2233.

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Going to a  private dentist

Alternatively, you can opt for a private dentist. How much you pay will vary depending on the practice and location. 

The important point is that you know your rights, your options and the cost upfront so you can make an informed choice. Dentists must display a price list, clearly illustrating the costs of any treatment, as well as the options under both the NHS and private practice.

Your dentist should be able to give you a rough estimate of ongoing costs for a dental problem. You can compare private dentist costs using WhatClinic, the dental comparison site.

Under the Consumer Rights Act, which came into force in 2015, patients of private dentists whose treatment has not been carried out with reasonable care are entitled to have any problems fixed by their dentist. If a problem can’t be fixed, the patient has a right to get at least a partial refund.

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Cash dental plans

If large dental bills are a concern, there are a number of policies in the insurance market that can help you manage these costs.

With a cash dental plan you arrange and pay for the treatment yourself, then reclaim a portion of the cost. The amount you can claim depends on the policy and provider you choose and the limits on that policy.

It is worth bearing in mind that these plans won't cover all your expenses, only a proportion, and each benefit has an annual limit, which in some cases can be pretty low. Different plans refund different amounts, usually between 50% and 100% of the bill, up to a preset limit.

Costs vary depending on cover. To make a claim on a cash plan you have to fill in a claim form, get it signed or stamped by the person who treated you and send in your receipts. 

Cash plan providers rely on apathetic customers forgetting to do this in order to keep their premiums low – so once you've bought a plan, make sure you remember to make a claim wherever possible.

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Dental insurance

Alternatively, you can go for a dental insurance policy, available from medical insurers. You can choose a plan that just covers NHS treatment or one that covers private work, too. 

These typically cover the costs of check-ups and maintenance but the downside is they may only cover a proportion of your costs. 

However, it can be expensive, and unnecessary if your teeth are in pretty good health – if you're able to get easy access to NHS care you'd be better off seeing an NHS dentist for occasional check-ups. 

According to consumer group Which?, a 60-year-old can expect to pay dental insurance premiums ranging from around £10 a month for a basic policy, to over £25 for top-level cover.

Dental payment plan

The final option is a dental payment plan. This, strictly speaking isn't an insurance scheme, but a monthly payment plan, enabling people to spread the cost of dental treatment rather than facing large one-off bills.

This type of plan covers regular treatment, including check-ups and hygienist appointments and will also cover fillings, x-rays and extractions.

The exact price you pay varies, dependent on the dental practice you use and, more importantly, the condition of your teeth. While some will cover hygienist appointments, however, the cost of crowns, root canals and bridge work is not included on all plans, so be sure of the exact cover before you sign up.

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The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated. The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.