NHS general dental services

NHS general dental services

If you have a dental problem you should, in the first instance always telephone the dental practice that you normally attend.

If you are not registered with any dental practice then you should read our advice on dental emergencies.

NHS general dental services (GDS) are provided by general dental practitioners. These dentists are either in contract with, or employed by, their local NHS Board to provide general dental care and treatment.

From the 1st of January 2014, dentists employed by their local NHS Board provide dental care and treatment under what is known as the Public Dental Service (PDS).

General dental practitioners outwith the PDS are independent contractors, who can:

  • choose whether to join or resign from an NHS Board’s dental list
  • choose whether or not to provide NHS dental treatment to a patient who is not registered with them
  • give notice to a patient registered with them that they are withdrawing from the arrangement to provide NHS dental care and treatment

With certain exceptions, dentists should normally give patients three months notice of their intention to withdraw.

Patient charges are the same for dental care and treatment provided by contracted dental practitioners and by practitioners in the PDS.

Our role

Under NHS regulations, the NHS NSS Practitioner Services act on behalf of the Scottish Dental Practice Board. NHS NSS Practitioner Services ensure the dental care and treatment provided, or to be provided if prior approval is required:

  • is appropriate
  • is necessary to secure and maintain the patient’s oral health
  • is in the patient’s best interests
  • has or will be carried out with proper skill and attention

On occasion, dental officers of the Scottish Dental Reference Service (part of Practitioner Services) examine patients prior to, or after, their dental treatment.

Additionally, on behalf of the NHS Boards, the NHS NSS Practitioner Services pay contracted dentists fees, allowances and other payments in accordance with the Statement of Dental Remuneration. NHS NSS Practitioner Services have various payment verification and audit processes in place to ensure these payments from public funds are made appropriately.

In order to receive the full range of dental treatment and care under the NHS, you must be registered with a dentist. You can find dentists in your area using our local services directory.

Quality of service

If you’re unhappy with the quality of service you’ve received at your dentist, you should make a complaint to the dental practice concerned. The practice will have a complaints procedure, which you’re entitled to see.

What to do if you are unhappy with the level of service you received?

It’s always preferable to settle a complaint between the practice and yourself, but if it can’t be resolved, you can take your complaint to your local NHS Board. The NHS Board in question will deal with the complaint in accordance with their own complaints procedure.

For more information on making complaints and giving feedback about the service you have received through the NHS visit our care, support and rights section.

Scottish Dental Reference Service

The Scottish Dental Reference Service (SDRS) is made up of a small team of independent dentists who help to monitor the standard and quality of NHS dental treatment.

This is done by inspecting your mouth either before treatment is carried out or after you’ve received treatment.


For pre-treatment cases, in support of prior approval, the Dental Reference Officer (DRO) reports on the necessity of the treatment and the appropriateness of the dentist’s treatment plan. The DRO will make alternative suggestions if the original plan is not considered appropriate.


Post treatment referrals are selected on a random basis or where the NHS NSS Practitioner Services Dental Advisers have a concern over the treatment claimed by the dentist.

Once you have been examined, the DRO will send a report to your dentist detailing the outcome of the examination. You can request a copy of this report by asking a member of staff for a form after your examination is complete.

If you’ve had treatment that the DRO believes to be of an unsatisfactory standard, your dentist has a responsibility to correct that treatment.

When you sign your GP17 PR form, you’re also agreeing that you’ll attend the Scottish Dental Reference Service if requested.

Attending the service

Patients are urged to make every effort possible to attend to assist in the monitoring process and allow the optimum use of the DRO’s time and that of their support staff.

Contact Details

Scottish Dental Reference Service
NHS National Services Scotland
Meridian Court
5 Cadogan Street
G2 6QE

Phone 0345 712 5449 (Calls charged at the local rate) or 0141 300 1901

Last updated:
24 October 2023

Search for dental services