Money Advice Service

We all want to take care of our teeth. It makes good financial sense to get your dental treatment subsidised or free though the NHS. But if you can’t go to an NHS dentist, or you need to have a great deal of work done on your teeth, dental insurance might be a good idea.

What are the options for funding dental care?

Not sure what something means? Have a look at our Protection insurance glossary.

As well as getting relatively cheap – or free – dentistry through the NHS, there are two ways you can pay for your dental care:

  • Paying for treatment with dental insurance (although depending on your insurance you might still have to pay for a portion of the costs separately).
  • Through what’s known as a ‘capitation plan’, such as Denplan, DPAS or Practice Plan for example, which spreads the cost of treatment over a set period of time.

What does the NHS offer?

The NHS offers all the treatment you need to keep your teeth healthy, including emergency treatment. It doesn’t usually include cosmetic treatment.

How much does it cost?

This is the cheapest option.

In England, a check-up and clean costs £21.60; fillings and root canal work cost £59.10 and you can expect to be charged around £256.50 for crowns, dentures and bridges.

NHS dental treatment is free if you’re pregnant or on Income Support. It’s also free for children.

In Wales, all your check-ups are free, and treatment for over 65s is free too.

Finding an NHS dentist

Is it value for money?

NHS dental treatment often costs around half of private dental care.

If you need an X-ray, root canal and a crown, private dentists will charge you separately for each element of treatment.

In England, for example, the NHS will charge only once for each complete course of treatment, even if you need a number of appointments to complete the work.

If you go to the dentist every six months and only need a check-up when you go, you’ll pay £41.20 a year.

Dental insurance

What does dental insurance offer?

Dental insurance policies cover routine check-ups, as well as the costs of all dental work, including dental accidents and emergencies.

You pay the dentist first, then claim back your money.

Dental policies might have set annual limits of around £1000 (some start from £500).

You can often have the work done at either an NHS practice or at a private clinic.

Bear in mind though, that you can normally only start to claim between one and three months after you buy the insurance.

If you haven’t been to the dentist in the past 12 months, your policy might not pay for treatment identified at your first check-up.

Cosmetic dental work, such as teeth whitening, is not generally covered.

Most policies have an age range which starts from age 18 (though some start at age 6). Shop around for the oldest upper age limit.

How much does it cost?

From £50-£250 a year, depending on what you’re covered for from basic routine care up to an extensive treatment plan.

You can choose how much you want to spend and this will affect the level of cover.

For example, a cheaper policy might pay out 50% of treatment you receive and/or have a lower benefit limit per condition per year (for example up to £500 for root canal work in one year).

Even if you have cover, you’ll still have to pay for some treatment and there is a limit on how much you can claim back for each treatment plan.

For example, you might be paid a percentage (from 50-70%) of the fee charged by your dentist for remedial dental treatment, though some policies refund 100% of the fee for NHS treatment.

Is it value for money?

If you end up needing a lot of treatment, dental insurance can provide good value for money.

Particularly if you use an NHS dentist, as you’re more likely to get back 100% of the cost of your treatment.

If you can’t see an NHS dentist, you’ll only be paid back a percentage of your treatment costs, but insurance is still a good idea if you go to a private dentist and need lots of work done on your teeth.

For example:

Kate pays a premium of £150 a year for dental insurance.

She needs a root canal filling and visits the NHS dentist who charges her £209 which she claims back from her insurer, leaving her £59 better off.

Alternatively, if she had received private treatment at a cost of £500, she would receive a total of 75% back (£375), so it will cost her £275 (£125 plus the £150 premium).

Some policies offer a no-claims discount, so the cost of your premium will increase if you make a claim for anything other than a standard check-up.

Plans that spread the cost of your dental care

What do capitation plans offer?

Plans that spread the cost of your dental care over a year are known as ‘capitation plans’.

You can sign up for treatment at different levels.

For instance:

  • Level one covers routine care such as check-ups, scale and polish, X-rays and fillings
  • Level two will also include restorative treatment – like crowns and root canal fillings

There are also flexible plans designed especially for children and plans that include cover for dental injuries and dental emergencies on a worldwide basis.

How much does it cost?

That depends on the plan you choose and your oral health.

Your dentist examines your teeth and sets your monthly fee accordingly.

If you choose a comprehensive plan your dentist will examine you and – depending on how much time, care and treatment you’ll need over the year – they will put you in a band with a set fee.

You could move up or down between fee bands if your oral health improves or deteriorates if you don’t follow the advice given.

Expect to pay an average monthly fee of around £19. You might also have to pay a joining fee.

Remember that, as you’re paying the dentist directly, prices might vary widely between practices.

Is it value for money?

The monthly average costs the same as the more expensive dental insurance policies.

So, if your teeth are in good condition, you’re probably better off on the NHS.

If your teeth need a lot of work, you will probably find that dental insurance policies are cheaper.

With a dental plan you’re tied to a particular dentist – so if you get referred to a specialist like an orthodontist, this will not be covered.

If you change dentists – for example you move to a new area – you might have to start the process again which means the amount you pay might have to go up.

If your teeth are good and you look after them with only the occasional check-up you might be subsidising those who don’t brush or floss and eat too much sugar!

Still can’t decide?

Unless your teeth are in particularly poor condition, it could be wise to stick with the NHS.

But if you can’t find an NHS dentist, or you simply want to use a private dentist, it makes sound financial sense to get dental cover.

Dental treatment can be very expensive and you have to choose whether to buy insurance or to pay for treatment as it arises from your own income or savings.

Where to buy dental insurance

If you’re thinking about buying dental insurance make sure you shop around and compare what’s on offer.

Remember, you might have access to dental insurance as part of your work benefits.

This article is provided by the Money Advice Service.