How to find free NHS dental treatment

NHS dental

If you can’t remember when you had your last dental appointment, then it’s probably time to get one booked in. NHS dental care is free for millions, if you’re eligible, and even if you do have to pay there are ways to cut costs. Here we look at everything you need to know including who is entitled to free NHS dental treatment, what is available, how to get help with NHS dental fees, and where to find a dentist.

What dental treatment is available with the NHS?

Anyone living in the UK is entitled to NHS dental treatment to keep their mouth, teeth, and gums healthy. This includes regular appointments and check-ups with a dentist.

The treatments available cover a vast range of things, including the following:

  • Scale and polish, if needed
  • Examinations and x-rays
  • Fillings
  • Treatment for a root-canal
  • Tooth removal
  • Crowns, dentures, and bridges

In an emergency, or if you’re in a lot of pain, you are also able to have NHS dental care. You can access this by calling the 111 service who will put you in touch with a local dentist. 

If you have any of the following, you can go to the A&E department of your local hospital for treatment, but the NHS says you should only do this after speaking to 111.

  • Severe pain
  • Heavy bleeding
  • Injuries to the face, mouth, or teeth

Cosmetic treatment such as teeth whitening or straightening, unless clinically necessary, is generally not included with NHS dental treatment. 

Dentist chair
Source: Daniel Frank / Pexels.

NHS dental bands

There are NHS dental charges to pay, depending on the type of treatment you need. These are separated into the following bands. 

There will be one single charge for each complete course of treatment you have, even if you have several appointments to complete the treatment. 

Before you agree to any treatment, you must be told what the costs will be and agree to these. All the work will be listed in your treatment plan, given to you before any treatment begins. 

  • Emergency dental treatment: £23.80

    This includes any emergency care you receive in an NHS dental practice

  • Band 1: £23.80

    This includes an examination, diagnosis, x-rays, advice on preventing future problems, a scale and polish if clinically needed, and preventative care such as an application of fluoride varnish or fissure sealant if needed. 

  • Band 2: £65.20

    This includes everything listed in band 1 and any additional treatment you need such as fillings, root canal work, or teeth removal.

  • Band 3: £282.80

    This includes anything from bands 1 and 2 along with crowns, dentures, bridges, and any laboratory work.  

You can either pay for NHS dental prices, choose a private dentist - which is likely to be more expensive - or choose a mixture of both.

Not everyone has to pay though, and there are places to get help with costs if you’re struggling.

person in dental chair
Source: Andrea Piacquadio / Pexels.

What NHS dental treatment can you get for free?

One of the great benefits of the NHS is that you don’t usually pay for medical treatment. It is funded by the taxes we pay so anyone can go to a hospital or doctor’s surgery and receive treatment when they need it. 

However, if you need treatment for your teeth it’s slightly different. This is one area where you may have to pay to see a dentist and for any treatment you need. 

How much you pay, and whether you pay at all, depends on factors including your age, what treatment you need, and your personal and financial circumstances. Those on a low income, for example, are usually able to receive free or discounted treatment. 

Anyone, no matter what their circumstances are, won’t have to pay for the following NHS dental treatments:

  • Having stitches removed
  • A dentist stopping bleeding from your mouth
  • Repairs to dentures

There are a number of different services to help people who are struggling to pay for NHS dental fees. 

You can check on the NHS Business Service Authority website if you could get help with costs. 

If one, or more, of the following apply to you, you may be able to get free NHS dental treatment.

  • Aged under 18, or 19 and in qualifying full-time education
  • You’re staying in an NHS hospital and treatment is carried out by the hospital dentist
  • You are pregnant or have had a baby within the last 12 months
  • You’re an NHS hospital dental service outpatient
  • You’re a prisoner

You’ll also be entitled to free treatment if you or your partner receive one of the following benefits, or you are the dependent of someone receiving one.

  • Income Support
  • Income-related Employment and Support Allowance
  • Income-based Jobseeker's Allowance
  • Pension Credit Guarantee Credit
  • Universal Credit (although you must meet the criteria)

Those who are entitled to, or named on, the following documents can also get free treatment:

  • A valid NHS tax credit exemption certificate or award notice. You will qualify if you receive Child Tax Credits, Working Tax Credits with a disability element (or both), and have an income for tax credit purposes of £15,276 or less
  • A valid HC2 certificate
  • A valid HC3 certificate (which entitled you to partial help)

Where you live in the country also makes a difference. There are different pricing structures depending on which part of the UK you live in. You can find more information on the NHS and dentistry services where you live by looking at the website for the health board of your local area.

dentist with model teeth
Source: Cedric Fauntleroy / Pexels.

What is the NHS low-income scheme?

If you have a low income, you may be able to get help with NHS dental fees, and other NHS services, through the NHS Low Income Scheme (LIS). 

To apply for it in England, you’ll need to show that your savings, investment, or property (not including the home you live in) don’t exceed the limit of £16,000 or £23,250 for those living permanently in a care home. If you live in a different part of the UK, check your local NHS website for guidance. 

If you’re eligible, you can apply online, by phone, or by post for the LIS. For postal applications, you’ll need to order an HC1 form online, download one, or pick one up at an NHS hospital or local Jobcentre Plus office. 

You will need to show your dentist proof of your eligibility (such as your certificate) before you have any work carried out on your teeth.

A LIS certificate doesn’t last forever and will have an expiry date. It’s up to you to keep on top of this, and if you receive help for costs but your certificate has expired there may be a £100 penalty charge. 

If you have paid for treatment, and you think you should’ve been entitled to free care, you can claim a refund but this needs to be done within three months of the date in which you paid. You can find more details on the NHS website. 

What help is available if you receive Universal Credit?

You can receive help for NHS dental treatment if you receive Universal Credit and meet either of the following eligibility criteria.

  • You had no earnings or had net earnings of £435 or less in your last UC assessment period
  • You receive an element of UC for a child, you or your partner had limited capacity for work (LCW), or limited capacity for work and work-related activity (LCWRA), or you either had no earnings or net earnings of £935 or less in your last UC assessment period.

There’s more help about the UC assessment period on the Gov.UK website.  

How can you find an NHS dentist?

Unlike with finding an NHS doctor, you don’t need to be in a set catchment area for an NHS dentist. This means you just need to find one that is convenient to you, and one accepting new NHS patients, and then you can register and make an appointment. 

 The coronavirus pandemic has made finding an NHS dentist a little harder because many have had to reduce patient numbers and opening hours. However, if you look on the NHS website there is an NHS dentist finder tool. You can enter your postcode and you’ll be given a list of nearby dentists accepting new patients. 

What if you can’t find an NHS dentist?

If you’ve contacted several local dentists and haven’t had any luck finding one, you can call the NHS England customer contact centre on 0300 311 2233 or via email at:  which should be able to help.  

The Healthwatch service can also help. It lists available services in your area and information and advice on making a complaint if you need to. If you’re still not satisfied, you can also make a formal complaint to the free Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman. 

How to keep your teeth and gums healthy

Prevention is always better than the cure and keeping your teeth, gums, and mouth healthy is the best way to avoid having to seek dental care.

Brushing and flossing your teeth regularly along with routine dentist appointments should help you to maintain good oral health. You’ll be told how often you’ll need to see the dentist at your first appointment but it’s usually once a year or every 24 months. 

NHS Dental FAQs

Is NHS dental treatment free?

Some people can get NHS dental treatment for free, including those on low incomes, pregnant women and those who have given birth within 12 months, and anyone aged 16 and under. It’s always worth checking if you’re eligible for free, or discounted, dental care and you can do this on the NHS Business Service Authority website.

How much is an NHS dental check-up?

Is NHS dental treatment free for over 60s?

Does NHS cover dental implants?

Are NHS dental charges per tooth?