In the current climate, it might seem like it's next to impossible to find an NHS dentist accepting new patients. Even if you register with one, the chances of you getting an appointment any time soon are slim, as waiting lists are getting longer every day.
If you need to find NHS dental services in the UK and don’t know where to start, keep reading. We'll give you the information you need to search for a dentist near you and answer the following questions:
- How do I find an NHS dentist taking on new patients?
- Why is it so hard to find a dentist with available appointments right now?
- What can you do if you can’t find an NHS dentist?
- Can you get an appointment in an emergency or if you’re in pain?
- What can you do if you’re out of options?
Everyone in the UK should be able to get the dental care they need, yet so many people aren’t. If you can’t find a dentist, you may need to look a little further afield, and asking in the right places can help.
This article aims to share all the information you need when looking for an NHS dentist accepting new patients. We'll also discuss what to do when it feels like you’re out of options.
Table of contents
- 1 Why is it so hard to find an dentist taking on NHS patients right now?
- 2 How do I find an NHS dentist taking on new patients?
- 3 What can you do if you can’t find an NHS dentist?
- 4 Can a dentist refuse NHS treatment?
- 5 Can you get an appointment in an emergency or if you’re in pain?
- 6 What can you do if you’re out of options?
- 7 Conclusion
Why is it so hard to find an dentist taking on NHS patients right now?
If you weren’t previously registered with an NHS dentist before the COVID-19 pandemic, or you have moved to a new area recently, chances are you are finding it hard to register with a dentist.
This is becoming normal all over the UK and it’s all down to how long waiting lists have grown during lockdowns. As you know, dental clinics across the country closed or moved to emergency only services during the first lockdown. During this time, many people didn't get the treatment they needed, and for others, their dental health deteriorated.
Even now with dental practices open, many still aren’t operating at full capacity. This is partly due to sanitisation protocols or staff going off sick to isolate when testing positive for the virus.
According to recent statistics from the British Dental Association (BDA), dental services have still not returned to normal two years into the pandemic and the lockdowns. Numbers show that nearly an entire year's worth of appointments have been lost to lockdowns and 40 million fewer courses of treatment have been administered.
While lockdowns and COVID-19 related isolation protocols caused a lot of this, some are also because of patients not reporting dental issues or getting routine check-ups.
In response, the government has announced a £50 billion funding boost to help with accessibility and to cover 350,000 appointments. They have also said that they expect dentists to work more hours in the evenings and early mornings. However, this is not an ideal situation for already exhausted dental professionals.
The following video goes into detail about why you may not be able to easily find an NHS dentist taking on new patients in the UK right now.
How do I find an NHS dentist taking on new patients?
The simplest way to find an NHS dentist near you is to use the NHS’s website search tool. Just input your postcode and a list of your nearest NHS dentists will pop up with information on which ones are taking on new patients.
You can find search tools for your particular country in the UK on the corresponding NHS and Health and Social Care websites.
However, you may find that a lot of dental practices have not recently updated their status and that some are only taking patients on referral. If they are only taking patients on referral this means that they are only taking on those referred from other dentists and doctors.
You may find that if no NHS dental practices near you are taking on new patients you will have to join the waiting lists of several. However, as this is not an ideal situation there are further things that you can do to help find an NHS dentist near you.
What can you do if you can’t find an NHS dentist?
If you have used the postcode search and can’t find an NHS dentist near you that is taking on patients, your next step is to call around local practices to double-check. It may be that some of these practices haven’t updated their status online and they are taking on new patients.
However, if you call and find that none are taking on new patients you have the option to look further afield if would like to. The NHS doesn't bound dentists by a catchment area so you can register anywhere that is taking on new patients.
Once you have exhausted all of these options, your next step depends on where you live in the UK.
If you are in England you can call the NHS England's Customer Contact Centre on 0300 311 2233 for help finding dental treatment.
NHS England commissions dental services and has to meet all needs of the local population for both routine and urgent care. If they don’t your local Healthwatch can help.
In Scotland, your nearest dental practice will be able to give you information on how to contact your local health board hub for advice.
Northern Ireland is through the HSC, so for more help you can contact one of the local offices (you will find the details on the website). And, in Wales, you can contact the dental helpline in your Health Board area.
Can a dentist refuse NHS treatment?
Dentists may not refuse any NHS treatment and then offer to perform it privately. However, they should explain suitable private treatment options to the patient for consideration, but they should not expect patients who need treatment to pay privately.
In addition to this, a single course of dental treatment may only be charged once, even if the patient visits the dentist multiple times.
For example, if a dentist repairs a tooth for a patient as part of NHS treatment, and the repair needs to be corrected within 12 months, the dentist may not apply for an additional NHS charge and they need to carry out further work needed.
Can you get an appointment in an emergency or if you’re in pain?
The good news is that if you are searching for an NHS dentist to register with because of an emergency or because you are in pain, you can get emergency treatment. Just call NHS 111 for advice, or in the case of an emergency, you can head straight to A&E.
You are entitled to see an NHS dentist in the case of an emergency, and a doctor can refer you to a clinic.
The following table summarises how to find an NHS dentist, and what your next steps are depending on which UK country you live in:
Where to search for NHS dentists near you
Who to get in touch with if you can't find a dentist
What to do in case of a dental emergency or pain
NHS England's Customer Contact Centre
Call NHS 111 for advice, or in the case of an emergency, you can head straight to A&E
Dental helpline your Health Board area
Local health board hub
Health and Social Care (HSC)
Local HSC office
What can you do if you’re out of options?
It’s important to remember that when you feel like you are out of options, you can still opt for private care. It doesn’t need to be a long-term solution, and you can keep looking for an NHS dentist in the meantime.
Private dentists may cost more, but there are a few ways to help make private dental costs more affordable, including:
- Shopping around – Dental prices vary from practice to practice and between dentists so it’s worth getting estimates from a few places before deciding where to go
- Dental insurance – With dental insurance you can pay monthly or annually to help keep costs down
- Payment plans – Some dentists offer payment plans which can break big payments into small manageable chunks
- Dental tourism – Dental costs are much lower abroad so you might be able to save money by travelling for treatment
Looking into any of these methods of saving money with private treatment can help make costs seem more affordable. You can even combine them so you can use more than one method to help you afford treatment and not have to rely on finding an NHS dentist.
Knowing how to find an NHS dentist accepting new patients can help you when you need to register at a practice. It’s not as easy as just finding your nearest dentist and registering anymore.
The pandemic has created a huge backlog of appointments and waiting lists are becoming incredibly long. This means that many dentists simply can’t handle any new patients because they are trying to see the ones that are already registered with them.
However, in the UK you are entitled to care, especially if you are in pain or it’s an emergency. So, if you are struggling to find a dentist, make sure you get in touch with the relevant services over the phone and ask for help.
If it’s an emergency or you are in pain, you can call NHS 111 for advice and a referral, or in the case of a trauma or bleeding that won’t stop, head straight to A&E.
Remember, you can always opt for private care, and if you are concerned about the cost, you can shop around for the best prices, look into payment plans or dental financing, and even consider dental tourism.
Dentistry. ‘The system is rotten’ – a whole years’ worth of dental treatments missed since start of Covid pandemic. Consulted 7th March 2022.