How to find the best dental deals

A visit to a private dentist can put a huge hole in your pocket. So it's no surprise that, as the credit crunch bites, fewer and fewer of us are having regular check-ups. Here, Ruth Jackson looks at how to save money on dental costs, and how to find an NHS dentist.

"He hasn't got the best teeth in the world, but you can afford to go and get them done now if you like." Claire Balding's remarks to the Grand National's winning jockey Liam Treadwell drew a collective gasp of horror and quite a few complaints from BBC viewers earlier this month. But aside from marring Treadwell's moment of glory, Balding's comment drew attention to the sad fact that a bright, white smile can cost a lot in this country.

As the credit crunch continues to bite it seems we Brits are sacrificing dental hygiene to cut costs. A survey by Simplyhealth has revealed that a million fewer Brits have an NHS dentist now compared to 2006. This, combined with cost-cutting in the recession, has resulted in 43% of us putting off visiting the dentist so far this year compared with 19% in 2008.

Even more worryingly, one in 20 of us has resorted to DIY dental surgery in the past two years according to a survey by the Citizens Advice Bureau. But before you start tying a piece of string between a door handle and that painful tooth, here are some ways to cut the cost of your dental treatment.

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Find an NHS dentist

The cheapest way to treat your teeth is with an NHS dentist. To find your nearest one head to the NHS website.

NHS dental treatment is only free if you are pregnant, on benefits or the mother of a child under a year old. But for everyone else it is still considerably cheaper than private dental work. NHS treatments are divided into three bands. A basic check-up, with scale and polish costs £16.50. A check-up including any fillings, root-canal treatment or extractions is £45.60. While anything from that list, plus complex procedures such as crowns, bridges and dentures will cost £198.

Charges at a private dental practice on the other hand vary hugely, with a check-up usually costing between £25 and £60. Fillings can cost up to £100 for a mercury filling, while a crown can cost between £250 and £400. If you are going to see a private dentist then make sure you shop around before registering with a practice. And always ask to see the charge sheet before agreeing to any treatment.

What about dental insurance?

If you can't find a local NHS dentist who will take you on, it is still possible to cut the cost of private treatment by getting dental insurance. Specialist firms such as HSA and Westfield Health both offer healthcare plans that include dental work. HSA offers a dedicated dental plan, which costs from £7.70 a month. You can also get dental insurance from Tesco and Boots which costs from £19.95 and £13.50 per month respectively.

These plans typically reimburse 50-100% of your dental costs up to varying annual limits in return for a flat monthly fee.

If you are looking for complete healthcare that includes dentistry then Westfield Health (0114 250 2000) will offer you a package covering the costs of visiting the dentist, the optician, surgery, and hospital stays from £4.76 a month. However to get decent maximum levels of payback you will need to pay closer to £20 a month. But that's still a good deal if you are claiming for say both dental and optician costs.

If you have good, healthy teeth then its usually cheaper to just pay up front for your check-ups and build up some savings to cover any unexpected dental costs. But, "if you think you're going to need some serious work in the near future, it's definitely worth getting dental insurance," says Jasmine Birtles of in The Independent.

Another option for spreading the cost is a capitation plan. These are offered by some private dentists and involve you paying a monthly premium to cover the cost of dental treatment. The premium is worked out after your dentist has inspected your teeth and calculated what treatment you will need in the future. Note however that a capitation plan spreads the cost of treatment rather than saving you money. "If you have bad teeth, you merely pay more," says Harvey Jones on But it does help you avoid nasty surprises in the form of large one-off bills.

Watch out for 'cheap' overseas deals

Many articles in the past year have sung the praises of getting major dental work done overseas with happy customers quoted as claiming they saved tens of thousands of pounds by getting their teeth done in either Eastern Europe or the Far East. After all, why not get your teeth fixed and take a cheap break somewhere such as Budapest at the same time? But, while major dental work is never cheap, the sheer scale of some of the claimed savings raises questions about the amount of the work patients are being told they need.

For example, I was recently told by an overseas dental clinic, on the strength of an x-ray I was asked to email over, that I needed £8,000-worth of dental surgery including root-canal work, several extractions and multiple implants. Trouble is my private British dentist had already studied the x-ray and told me I needed just one implant costing £2,500. If I'd listened to the foreign clinic I'd be £5,500 poorer.

Anyone considering overseas treatment should always talk to their own dentist first to check whether they are forking out for unnecessary work. You could also end up out of pocket if you have to pay for extra corrective work in the UK after your trip.

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Ruth Jackson-Kirby

Ruth Jackson-Kirby is a freelance personal finance journalist with 17 years’ experience, writing about everything from savings and credit cards to pensions, property and pet insurance. 

Ruth started her career at MoneyWeek after graduating with an MA from the University of St Andrews, and she continues to contribute regular articles to our personal finance section. After leaving MoneyWeek she went on to become deputy editor of Moneywise before becoming a freelance journalist.

Ruth writes regularly for national publications including The Sunday Times, The Times, The Mail on Sunday and Good Housekeeping among many other titles both online and offline.