Biting through the dentistry confusion

This dental patient is having a check up but not all patients get the dentistry they are entitled to
This dental patient is having a check up but not all patients get the dentistry they are entitled to
Dr John Steadman, archivist of Portsmouth History Centre based at Portsmouth Central Library     Picture:  Malcolm Wells

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The brutal truth is that – sooner or later – we all have to go to the dentist.

But for one reason or another many people put off getting signed up and, when they do come to try and register, they can struggle with hefty charges, a lack of information and substandard complaints procedures.

A recent study by the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) found that the £5.73bn UK dentistry market might not always work in the best interests of patients.

It discovered some patients have insufficient information to make informed decisions about their choice of dentist and the dental treatments they receive.

While a survey conducted as part of the study suggested that each year around 500,000 patients may be provided with inaccurate information about whether they can get treatment on the NHS – leading to some paying far more to go private.

The report also highlighted the complexity of the complaints process for patients and some instances of potential pressure selling of dental payment plans.

John Fingleton, OFT chief executive says: ‘Our study has raised significant concerns about the UK dentistry market which need to be tackled quickly in the interest of patients.

‘All too often patients lack access to the information they need, for example when choosing a dentist or when getting dental treatment.

‘We also unearthed evidence that some patients may be receiving deliberately inaccurate information about their entitlement to NHS dental treatment, and we expect to see robust action taken against such potential misconduct by dentists.’

While we wait for the industry to respond to these criticisms, Streetwise has some tips for making your trip to the dentist a bit less painful.

· Finding an NHS dentist

Everyone is entitled to join an NHS dentist without any kind of examination before registering. The quickest way to find one is by entering your postcode into the NHS Choices website (nhs.uk), but you can also text ‘dentist’ to 64746 or call NHS Direct on 0845 4647.

You do not need to be registered with a dentist to receive urgent or out-of-hours care.

If you do need to find a dentist in an emergency, the NHS Choices website or NHS Direct can help you find one open at the weekend.

· Paying for treatment

There are three standard charges for NHS dental treatment in England. Band one costs £17.50 and covers an examination, advice and, if necessary, X-rays and a scale and polish. Band two is £48 and includes treatments like fillings and extractions.

Band three can cost up to £209 for complex procedures like crowns, dentures or bridges. Urgent NHS dental treatment is usually classed as Band one.

As an NHS dental patient you have the right to stop treatment you aren’t happy with and to refuse to pay for treatment that isn’t satisfactory.

You also have the right to a free second opinion, although if this is sought privately, your costs will not be covered by the NHS.

· Who gets free care?

People aged under 18, or those who are 18 and are still in full-time education, do not have to pay for dental treatment.

Also exempt are pregnant women or those who have had a baby in the 12 months before treatment starts.

People on income support, income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance or income-related employment and support allowance do not have to pay.

· Lodging a complaint

The best thing to do first if you’re unhappy with the treatment you’ve received is speak to your dentist or practice manager.

If this doesn’t resolve your complaint, write to the practice explaining the problem and what you want them to do – remember to keep a copy of all correspondence.

For NHS patients the next step is to contact your local health authority. NHS Portsmouth can be reached on (023) 9282 2444.

If you’re not satisfied you can ask an ombudsman to review your case by calling 0345 015 4033. For complaints about private practices the Dental Complaints Service can be contacted on 08456 120 540 or at info@dentalcomplaints.org.uk.