Is there anyone who actually likes going to the dentist? It’s not just the physical pain, it’s the assault on your wallet that hurts nearly as much. Occasionally, though, you have a nagging discomfort. You just know that something’s wrong and it’s only going to get worse – physically and financially. So it was with me, and a couple of days after making an appointment I’m lying on my back with my mouth open and a suave man in green scrubs is peering into the cavity.

“It’s Bad News”, he tells me. There’s decay under three crowns. I may need root canal treatment. Total cost, worst case scenario, almost £3,000 including £625 for the root work. And the dentist strongly recommends we do it “sooner rather than later”. Oh, I forgot to say it’s a private practice. There are no NHS dentists anywhere near my village anymore.

But there are in Hastings, so I check into one not far from the town centre for a second opinion. She confirms there is some decay, but that it may not need urgent treatment. In fact, one option would be simply to leave it alone and see what happens. If I did want it done the NHS costs would be £60 for
the root canal filling and £256 for each of the crowns – a potential total of £828.

That’s still a lot of money. Then someone recommends another private dentist who’s just returned to the town after a long absence. Nothing ventured, I make an appointment for a third opinion. What a contrast! A charming man with a wonderfully reassuring chair-side manner advises leaving one tooth alone and, for the other two, trying to remove the decay and fill the cavity without removing the crown. He can’t guarantee success, but it would cost less. A lot less. Around £220 over two appointments – one of an hour and the second of 30 minutes.

Well, you can guess which option I took. The work was done with
the minimum discomfort and maximum efficiency. After nearly half a century I’ve finally found a dentist I like and trust. But what’s with the first guy who wanted more than 10 times the amount to sort my problem? His solution may have been technically correct but he didn’t offer me any other option. Over a million new patients have been unable to secure access to routine NHS dental services, according to a survey last month by the British Dental Association.

Nearly half of all NHS dentists are refusing to take new patients, and the money they get from central government has been cut by nearly 10% in the past five years while their costs are rising far faster than inflation. The BDA estimates that taxable income for high street NHS dentists has fallen by nearly 35% in real terms since 2006. And this is despite the fact that NHS dental charges in England rose by 5% last year and will do so again this April.

Indeed, increases have been imposed every year for the past four years.

As more people are forced into private dentistry, there is no clarity about what they might have to pay. The General Dental Council accepts there are no set limits on what private practices can charge for treatment and prices do vary. The different costs can, they say, be ‘confusing’ for patients. It pays to shop around.

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