Toothache? Pay private fees or do it yourself

Many will know that, while most people have to pay something for NHS dental treatment, it is still free to a certain section of the community: children and pregnant women and new mothers. But, as George Monbiot pointed out in his column in the Guardian on 2 March:

‘Every child in the UK is entitled to free treatment by a non-existent dentist. Some people on benefits, pregnant women and those who have recently given birth also have free and full access to an imaginary service. Your rights are guaranteed, up to the point at which you seek to exercise them’ (

Dental practices, being profit-seeking businesses, consider that what they are paid for treating NHS patients is not enough – they claim that in some cases it doesn’t even cover their costs – and so are increasingly reluctant to offer it and have not been using up all their NHS funding. In February it was reported that ‘Around £400million allocated for dental care went unspent this year because of a shortage of dentists willing to do NHS work’ (

What this ultimately means is that any patient requiring urgent treatment is forced to make a choice between suffering or paying privately for the treatment there and then.

With private dental treatment running into the hundreds, sometimes thousands of pounds, it is obvious that those on lower incomes are really faced with no choice at all.

The system does appear to offer an alternative. Since 2006 the necessity to ‘register’ with a particular dentist has been abolished. What this means is that a patient whose regular dentist is unable or unwilling to provide NHS-funded treatment can shop around for another dentist prepared to treat them under the NHS.

The reason this only ‘appears’ to be an alternative is because it is another of Monbiot’s rights to a non-existent service. You won’t find another dentist prepared to treat you as they won’t find it profitable. So, when you look at those same low-income families and elderly people who can’t afford to ‘go private’, you see that really this is not much of an alternative at all.

In any event, going to another dentist obviously can involve increased travel costs if the dentist is out of the area. While merely inconvenient for some it could mean the difference between having the treatment and not for others such as the very low-waged who do not have access to personal transport or the rurally housed elderly who rely on poor public transport coverage. When you add the psychological factor of forcing people to see a dentist they are unfamiliar with which, as we know, can have a particular impact on older members of our community, you can see why so many people elect to wait for their own dentist to be able to do the work or forgo the treatment altogether.

There is another option – DIY dentistry – which, apparently, some have been taking. As Monbiot noted:

‘The result, in one of the richest nations on Earth, is that people are extracting their own teeth, making their own fillings, improvising dentures and sticking them to their gums with superglue, and overdosing on painkillers’.

We continue to be forced into a situation where, when we need treatment which is vital to our health and well-being, we either pay extortionate private fees, are forced to seek out another dentist at our own cost or, if none of the above are possible for us because of our financial situation, simply wait, with our condition worsening.

In socialism dental treatment would be provided freely to anyone who needed it. Unshackled from the financial pressures of the capitalist system, freed from the necessity of eking out an inadequate funding budget, the health services would be able to treat all those in a timely fashion to the best possible standard.

The fact is that no-one should be forced to make such dire choices when it comes to this or any other area of their health. The NHS was originally intended to implement the admirable principle: ‘Treatment free at the point of need’. Where our dental treatment is concerned, this principle has long had a thread tied between it and the door handle, and the door slammed shut.

Next article: Let’s abolish food banks ➤

One Reply to “Toothache? Pay private fees or do it yourself”

  1. Tell me about it(!) I pay £22.30 a month for dental insurance from Denplan. I’ve had it since 2014, and (apart from 2021) it has gone up £12 a year, every year!

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