Receiving NHS dental treatment in ScotlandSee all parts of this guide Hide guide parts
Registering with a dentist
If you have a dental problem you should, in the first instance always contact the dental practice that you normally attend.
If you're not registered with any dental practice then you should read our advice on dental emergencies.
Around 95% of people are registered for NHS dental care and treatment in Scotland. If you're unsure whether you are or not, you should check with your dentist that you are registered as a NHS patient.
When you register with a dentist you'll be registered for life, unless you or your dentist requests your registration to be withdrawn.
Your dentist must give you at least 3 months’ notice if they intend to withdraw your registration if you're an NHS patient. However, registration can be withdrawn immediately by the dentist due to violence, abusive behaviour or repeated non-attendance.
If you attend another dentist for treatment and don't tell them you're registered elsewhere, your registration will automatically transfer to that dentist.
Not all dentists are able to take on new NHS patients. You should contact dental practices directly to find out if you can register with them.
The NHS inform helpline is unable to tell you which dental practices are currently accepting new patients.
Once you've found your dentist and established they can take you on as a new NHS patient, you'll need to supply your dentist with some information.
To register you as a new patient, they'll ask you for your name and address. You'll also be asked to sign a registration form and arrange your first check-up.
You'll be asked to complete a full medical history form before your appointment, so you should bring an up-to-date list of any medication you take.
At this stage you should be given all the relevant information you need about your dentist including:
- the dental services they provide
- who'll be carrying out your dental treatment
- contact information and opening hours
If you want to register your child you should do this at the same time you register yourself. You don't have to wait until your child's teeth grow in, you can register them soon after they're born.
You do not need to pay a deposit for an appointment to register.
Access to a translator
If English is not your first language, you can ask your dental practice if a translation service is available to you.
Understanding your dental treatment
Dental practices can provide preventive care as part of the Childsmile programme for children up to 17 years of age.
Maintaining good oral health depends on good diet, regular tooth brushing and intervention from the dental practice. The good habits and preventive care learned through the Childsmile programme need to be maintained in older children and delivered in dental practices.
Preventive care programme for adults
Adults are offered a treatment plan which includes an enhanced clinical examination. You'll then receive any further treatments to maintain and improve your oral health.
To ensure the best possible care, it's important that you attend appointments as recommended by your dentist.
During your dental check-up you may be asked about any changes to your medical history, medication or any new allergies. You'll also be asked about any changes you have noticed such as lumps or bumps or if you are having any specific problems. You may also be asked if you smoke or drink alcohol and if so, how much.
After they've established how your general health is they'll do the following:
- examine your mouth including your teeth, gums and tongue
- advise you on how you can keep your mouth healthy
- explain any treatments you may need - if you do need dental treatment they'll advise you of your options, including what treatments can be carried out on the NHS
- explain any treatment cost
If you do need treatment then your dentist will supply you with a treatment plan. A treatment plan is a document that helps to explain the treatment you require and what it will involve. It will also detail an estimate of how much the treatment will cost you.
You can ask for a treatment plan any time treatment has been recommended for you. If you want to take a copy away with you, your dentist can arrange this.
Treatments available as an NHS patient
Once you're registered as an NHS patient you have access to any treatment, advice and care you need to keep your teeth, mouth and gums as healthy as possible. Your dentist will explain which treatments are available on the NHS and which are private.
Treatments that you may receive on the NHS include:
- root canal treatment
- scale and polish
- wisdom tooth removal
- dentures or false teeth
Generally, cosmetic procedures will need to be paid for privately.
Dental treatment costs
An NHS dental examination (check-up) in Scotland is free of charge for everyone.
Following a dental examination, the dentist will advise you of any treatment you require and the likely cost. They must also provide an itemised account, if requested.
NHS patients, who pay for their treatment, pay 80% of the treatment costs (including any X-rays), up to a maximum of £384. Any costs over this maximum will be fully subsidised by the NHS. You'll never pay more than £384.
A dentist can ask for payment in advance. They can also charge a patient if they fail to attend for an appointment without giving due notice.
Who gets free treatment on the NHS?
You can get free dental treatment if you're:
- aged under 26
- pregnant or have given birth in the last 12 months
- on a low income and receiving certain benefits
Please take evidence of any exemption with you to the dentist.
Around 40% of all patients, including children, are exempt from paying towards the cost of their NHS dental care.
NHS Low Income Scheme
You may be entitled to dental treatment at a further reduced cost through the NHS Low Income Scheme (LIS). The LIS is designed to provide help with NHS charges for those who are not automatically entitled to free treatment, but have difficulty in paying.
This scheme is income-related and based your financial circumstances.
Find out if you are eligible for free or reduced cost NHS dental treatment
What is prior approval?
Your dentist may inform you that they have to apply for prior approval before your treatment can be started. Dentists are required to seek approval from the NHS NSS Practitioner Services, for certain treatments and treatments of high value. This process may take a little time and delay your treatment slightly.
Are all treatments available on the NHS?
Not all treatments are available on the NHS. Cosmetic treatments are not available, for example. This includes ‘white fillings’ on back teeth or a tooth coloured crown on a back tooth.
Your dentist will be able to explain what treatment is and isn't allowed on the NHS.
Below are examples of potential costs for NHS dental treatments. Please note that NHS fee structure varies considerably from patient to patient depending on the treatment required. Typically, most patients in good oral health would require an examination, and a scale and polish.
Two small X-rays
Simple gum treatment (scale & polish)
Small amalgam (silver) filling
Large amalgam (silver) filling
Root canal treatment (front tooth)
Single crown (front tooth)
Simple extraction (one tooth)
Complete (upper and lower) dentures
For adult patients who are required to pay NHS dental charges, around 40 per cent of adult claims are for either an examination or an examination and scale and polish.
For more information on treatment charges visit Scottish Dental
NHS dental complaints
You have the right to make a complaint about treatment provided by a dentist, under NHS arrangements. The Patient Advice and Support Service (PASS) helps to provide independent, free, accessible and confidential advice and support to patients, their carers and families about NHS healthcare.
Further information about how to make a complaint and information about PASS
If you have a complaint you should try to resolve it locally in the first instance either with your practice or through your health board. Each practice will have a complaints procedure. NHS boards are responsible for overall provision of NHS general dental services in an area. They will act as an honest advisor between yourself and the dental practitioner.
Further information on how to contact each NHS board in Scotland
Taking complaints further
Dental complaints can be made to the Scottish Public Services Ombudsman (SPSO) if you haven't heard from a practice or health board after 20 days.
The General Dental Council (GDC)
You can also raise your concerns with GDC. The GDC is the UK-wide statutory regulator for dental care professionals. Their primary purpose is to protect patient safety and maintain public confidence in dental services. Their role is to:
- register qualified dental professionals
- set standards of dental practice
- investigate complaints about dental professionals' fitness to practice
- work to ensure the quality of dental education
Further information about the role of the GDC
Private Dental Complaints
Any complaints about dental treatment provided by a dentist on a private basis can be made through the Dental Complaints Service.
Further information on how to make a private dental complaint
19 April 2023
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