Money Wellness
Image of a mouth and teeth being examined by a dentist
category iconcost of living
calendar icon14 Jul 2023

'Grin and bear it' when it comes to dental treatment on the NHS

People on low incomes are being forced to pull out their own teeth because they can’t access or afford an NHS dentist, according to a YouGov survey.

More than half (56%) of the 2,104 people surveyed said they had carried out their own treatments in the past year, with 20% stating they did so because they couldn’t find an NHS dentist.

The poll also found more than one in five Britons (22%) were not registered with a dentist, with 23% saying it was because they couldn’t afford treatment.

There were also significant regional variations in the availability of NHS dentistry. The worst affected people were those from deprived areas, ethnic minorities, the homeless and those with complex needs such as autism.

The survey has led to the Commons health and social care committee to call for ‘urgent and fundamental reform’ after it found evidence of pain and distress that is ‘totally unacceptable in the 21st century’.


Who’s entitled to free NHS dental treatment?

You do not have to pay for NHS dental services if you’re:

  • Under 18, or 19 and in full-time education
  • Pregnant or have had a baby in the last 12 months
  • Being treated in an NHS hospital and your treatment is carried out by the hospital dentist (but you may need to pay for any dentures or bridges)
  • Receiving low income benefits, or you’re under 20 and dependent on someone receiving low income benefits


What low income benefits entitle you to free NHS dental treatment?

You’re entitled to free NHS dental treatment if you or your spouse (including civil partner) receive:

  • Income support
  • Income-related employment and support allowance
  • Income-based jobseeker’s allowance
  • Pension credit guarantee credit
  • Universal credit (in certain circumstances)


Do you have a certificate to help with health costs?

You can receive free NHS dental treatment if you’re entitled to or named on:

  • A valid NHS tax credit exemption certificate
  • A valid HC2 certificate – available to people on a low income
  • A valid maternity exemption certificate

People named on an NHS certificate for partial help with health costs (HC3) could also get help.

People on low income can include some students and pensioners.

You’ll be asked to show your dentist written proof that you don’t need to pay for all or part of your NHS treatment, and you’ll have to sign a form to confirm this.


Where can you find an NHS dentist?

To find an NHS dentist, visit Enter your postcode for a list of NHS dentists in your area.

You may find that when you click on a dentist they’re not accepting new NHS patients, or that they have not updated their information in the last 90 days.

If they have not updated their information, you should call the dental practice to find out if they’re taking on new patients. If they are, you might have to join a waiting list.


I can’t find a dentist that’s accepting new patients. What can I do?

If, after contacting several dental surgeries, you can’t find a dentist accepting NHS patients, call NHS England’s customer contact centre on 0300 311 2233 to see if they can help.


Why can’t I find an NHS dentist?

Dental care isn’t set up in the same way as GP care. This is why you don’t have to register with a dentist in the area you live.

Dental practices hold contracts for NHS patients with NHS England, and there are not enough dentists to cover NHS treatment for everyone. As a result, a dentist may have a free treatment slot (and be able to offer you a private appointment) but unable to fill this slot with NHS work, as they will not be paid to do so.


What if I’m in pain or have an emergency?

If you’re currently in pain or need emergency treatment, call NHS 111. If you’re in pain, you are entitled to see an emergency dentist.

Avatar of Caroline Chell

Caroline Chell

Caroline has worked in financial communications for more than 10 years, writing content on subjects such as pensions, mortgages, loans and credit cards, as well as stockbroking and investment advice.

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