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Why can’t I find an NHS dentist?

It’s becoming increasingly difficult to get the dental care that you need on the National Health Service (NHS), due to high demand after the Covid-19 pandemic. There has been a shortage of NHS dentists after the pandemic, and hundreds of people search online for the phrase ‘find an NHS dentist near me’ every month.

Many private health insurance companies now provide the option to buy dental cover to help with the cost of private dental care. This can be added to a new or existing health insurance policy, and companies like Bupa also sell specific dental insurance policies.

According to a recent BBC report, almost 25% of people trying to book an NHS dentist appointment within the last 2 years were unsuccessful. This has led to more and more people paying privately to get the dental check-ups and treatments that they need.

In this guide, our health insurance experts explain how private health insurance can help with the cost of private dental care if you can’t find an NHS dentist.

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60-Second Summary – Why can’t I find an NHS dentist?

Thousands of people in the UK have been left without access to NHS dental care, after being able to visit their dentist for two years during the Covid-19 pandemic. An increasing number of dentists have stopped accepting NHS patients, meaning that it’s never been more difficult to book an appointment with an NHS dentist.

Many UK residents are now turning to private policies like private health insurance and dental insurance to help them with the cost of private dental appointments.

  • The availability of NHS dental care varies depending on where you live in the UK, and around 98% of dentists are not currently accepting new NHS patients.
  • Limited access to NHS dental care has led more people to choose private dentists for the treatment that they need, but this can be expensive.
  • Top UK health insurance companies like Vitality, AXA, and Aviva all offer the option to add dental cover to your new or existing health insurance policy.
  • Health insurance dental cover can help you with some or all of the cost of routine dental care, so you don’t struggle with unaffordable bills.
  • Certain health insurance policies will automatically include cover for dental care that takes place in a hospital, such as surgical removal of impacted teeth.

The NHS was drastically affected by the Covid-19 pandemic, and this includes dental services as well as standard healthcare. Recent studies by the BBC found that 98% of dental practices in the South-West of England, Yorkshire, and North-West England weren’t accepting new NHS patients.

This report found that 18% of dental practices in Scotland were taking on NHS patients, compared to only 7% in Wales, 9% in England and 10% in Northern Ireland.

Some of the main reasons why it is still difficult to register with an NHS dentist are:

  • Lack of NHS dentists in your local area
  • Privatisation of dental surgeries that used to treat NHS patients
  • Lack of funding for dental services
  • Long waiting lists for new NHS patients
  • Less NHS dentists working after the Covid-19 pandemic
  • 9 out of 10 NHS dental surgeries not taking on new adult patients (according to BBC research)

The government announced an ‘NHS Dental Recovery Plan’ back in February, which aims to make it easier to access dental care across England. This will take time to roll out though, and this report noted that there were around 1,000,000 patients who hadn’t seen a dentist in over 2 years.

Dentists to be offered cash incentives to treat NHS patients

This plan will offer dentists cash incentives to take on more NHS patients, as explained in detail in the clip above from a Sky News report in early 2024.

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Most health insurance companies don’t cover dental care as standard, but you will usually have the option to add dental cover to your policy for an additional cost.

Various health insurance companies can help with the cost of private dental treatment plans, whether this is for dental health or aesthetic treatment (e.g. whitening).

Health insurance can be a complicated topic to understand, so our experts have put together the table below to highlight which health insurance companies offer dental cover. This is to make it easier for you to compare what each insurer can offer and to decide which one might be a good choice for you and your family.

Health insurance companyCan I add on dental cover?
Aviva logoYES – You can add dental and optical benefit to your policy.
Surgical dental procedures that take place in hospital are covered automatically within your health insurance policy.
AXA Health logoYES – AXA Health offers a few options for dental cover, which includes a standalone dental insurance policy.
You can add a ‘dental and optical cash back’ plan to small business health insurance policies.
Bupa logoYES – But Bupa dental cover is currently only available to add on for existing Bupa customers.  
Another options is to buy a ‘Bupa Smile Plan’, which works as a subscription service that spreads the cost of your dental care.
Freedom logoYES – Freedom Elite policies allow you to add dental, optical, and private GP services.  
This includes up to £300 of cover for check-ups, x-rays, and hygienist fees.  
This also provides cover for dental injuries or treating severe dental pain (up to £600).
National Friendly logoNO – Standard dental treatment is not covered.  
‘Level 2’ policies include cover for surgical dental treatment such as removing impacted teeth in hospital.  
‘Level 3’ policies also include cover for treating cysts of the jaw.
The Exeter logoNO – The Exeter doesn’t allow you to add dental care to standard health insurance policies.  
However, The Exeter’s ‘Health Cash Plan’ will provide cover for dental care and optician’s appointments (small business health insurance).
Vitality logoYES – You can add ‘optical, dental, and hearing insurance’ to your Vitality health insurance policy.  
This allows you to claim back expenses for routine appointments, treatment (e.g. fillings), and dental accidents.
WPA logoYES – If ‘Cash Extras’ is added to your policy, this will help to cover the cost of routine dental care and optician’s appointments.

Note: You should carefully compare health insurance companies to assess which insurer offers the right dental cover for you and your family. There are many options and comparing multiple quotes is the simplest way to determine which insurer will be the cheapest choice for the cover that you need.

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While NHS dental services aim to make cheaper dental care widely available, you aren’t legally entitled to free NHS dental care unless any of the following applies:

The NHS is also responsible for organising any emergency dental treatment, including fillings and root canals. These treatments can be arranged by calling 111 for advice. This won’t necessarily be free, but they should be able to get an appointment booked for you if you have been struggling to sort this out yourself.

An NHS dentist can offer standard check ups, and other courses of treatment (e.g. scaling and polishing, fillings, root canals). You may even book in for treatments such as teeth whitening, though you do normally have to pay privately for this.

It’s not always obvious which dentists offer NHS care, especially if you have moved to a new area. This can make it more difficult to know who to contact to register for NHS dental care. Below is a simple step-by-step guide for how to find and register with an NHS dentist.

How to find an NHS dentist: Step-by-Step

  1. Contact your local dentist to check if they are taking on NHS patients.
  2. If you are unsure which dentists to contact or your initial choice has a waiting list, you can use the NHS ‘Find a Dentist’ tool to search for more options.
  3. Join a waiting list if you cannot register with an NHS dentist immediately.
  4. Fill in a registration form at the dental surgery, so that the dentists have all the relevant information needed to register you as a patient.
  5. If you don’t have a dentist and need emergency treatment, you can contact NHS 111. This service will be able to help if you are experiencing severe pain, bleeding, or swelling in your mouth, neck, throat, or eye.
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Anyone who can’t register with an NHS dentist either has had to wait and keep trying to register or register with a private dentist instead. An NHS dental appointment can cost anywhere between £26.80 – £319.10, depending on whether you need treatment and what this treatment is.

Private dental care can be more expensive, especially if you need treatment such as bridges, root canals, or extractions. A private health insurance policy can cover some or all these costs for you to make this more affordable for you.

If you’re not sure if health insurance is right for you, our friendly experts can offer free advice on 0800 009 6559 or CLICK HERE to fill out our online quote form.

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What is the average cost of health insurance UK?

One of the top questions that people ask about health insurance is, ‘how much does it cost on average per month?’. According to recent research taken in 2023, the average cost of a health insurance is £86 per month for a standard personal protection policy. Health insurance policies can vary dramatically based on your age and the type of cover that you need, as well as which insurance provider you choose.

Most core health insurance policies will provide a similar level of protection and coverage for private medical treatments. You can tailor your health insurance policy to suit your needs and your budget by changing the benefits and levels of cover that you receive.

Is health insurance worth it?

Health insurance is the same as most other personal protection policies that you can buy, it is down to your own personal preference and attitude to risk. The other major issue is whether you can afford to pay for health insurance every month because it can be expensive.

If you ever need to claim on your health insurance policy then the benefits can be life changing and even lifesaving. The medical treatments and care that is provided by the NHS in the UK is among the best in the world, especially for chronic illness. Unfortunately, it is a well-known fact that the NHS is struggling to meet demand and that the levels of private medical treatment are generally far superior to public health treatments.

Example: If you needed knee surgery then you would have to wait for months or even years on the NHS, whereas private health insurance will give you access to better treatment, leading specialists, and within weeks usually. Rehabilitation and therapies cover that are also provided by most health insurance policies can be invaluable, especially if you are self-employed for example.

Is private health insurance better than the NHS?

Currently, the biggest issue with the NHS is the waiting times for any consultations and access to treatments, because of how stretched its resources are. The NHS provides some of the best care in the world for chronic illnesses and diseases, such as diabetes, MS, epilepsy, and asthma.

Health insurance is designed to complement and support the treatment that you can receive on the National Health Service, as well as giving you access to specialists for other medical issues such as musculoskeletal issues and cancer treatment, which are also the top reasons for claims on health insurance cover.

The main issues with NHS treatment currently and reasons for people taking out health insurance:

  • Long waiting lists for consultations, results and treatment
  • Overcrowded hospitals
  • Lack of beds
  • Shortages of NHS nurses and doctors
  • Some treatments not available (especially cancer treatments)
  • Specialists only available on private health insurance
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What is the best health insurance UK?

There are lots of different policy options when considering health insurance as well as your choice of several main insurance providers. The other consideration is whether you don’t take out health insurance and opt for receiving treatment on the NHS or paying for treatment yourself as and when you need it.

We’re constantly reviewing the top health insurance companies in the UK to find out which provide the best service, value, products and treatments. Based on our most recent reviews we suggest the following as the best health insurance UK 2023:

  1. Aviva Healthcare Solutions (Trustpilot score: 4.1 out of 5.0)
  2. BUPA Health Insurance (Trustpilot score: 4.0 out of 5.0)
  3. Vitality Personal Healthcare (Trustpilot score: 3.9 out of 5.0)
  4. Exeter Health+ (Trustpilot score: 4.4 out of 5.0)
  5. AXA PPP (Trustpilot score: 4.1 out of 5.0)
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Best Private Health Insurance 2023 - iam|INSURED

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