Around 95% of people are registered for NHS dental care and treatment in Scotland. If you’re unsure, check your NHS registration status with the dentist you most recently attended for routine treatment.
NHS patients do not pay a regular fee or retainer to their dentist. There is also no charge for an examination.
If you’re registered with a dentist providing NHS dental care, your practice will be happy to discuss your treatment plan and costs with you before any work is carried out.
Once you’ve found a dentist that is able to take you on as a new NHS patient, you’ll need to provide some information.
You’ll be asked for your name, address, date of birth and contact details. You’ll then be given an appointment for an enhanced clinical examination. The practice may put you on a waitlist to be registered until you’ve been seen for the enhanced exam, even if they do provide an emergency appointment.
You’ll be asked to complete a full medical history form before your appointment, so please ensure that you bring an up-to-date list of all medicines. This medical history will need to be completed annually.
At this stage you should be given all the relevant information you need about your dentist including:
the dental services they provide
who will carry 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 as soon as they’re born.
You don’t need to pay a deposit for an appointment to register.
Access to a translator
If English is not your first language and a translation service would help you to attend the dentist, you can ask your dental practice for further support. As an NHS patient you are entitled to access translation service free of charge.
Attending the dentist if you have a respiratory illness
If you’ve been asked to attend a dental appointment in person, tell them about your symptoms or positive test.
When you register with a dentist you’ll be registered for life, unless you or your dentist requests that your registration is withdrawn.
Your dentist must give you at least 3 months’ notice if they intend to withdraw your registration if you are a NHS patient.
Registration can be withdrawn immediately by the dentist due to violence, abusive behaviour or repeated non-attendance.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.
What do you receive as an NHS patient?
Everyone is entitled to a comprehensive range of NHS 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 to allow you to make an informed decision about your treatment and to understand related costs.
Treatments that you can receive on the NHS include:
root canal treatment
preventive advice and treatment for gum disease
orthodontic braces (according to strict criteria)
extractions (tooth removal)
dentures or false teeth
Cosmetic procedures will usually need to be paid for privately.
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.
Preventive Care programme for adults
From 1 November 2023, you may notice that there are some changes to the way your NHS dental treatment is delivered. Based on NICE guidance, your dentist will determine how often you should have a NHS dental examination based on your treatment needs to ensure the best possible care. This may range from less than 6 months to every 2 years. If you are seen less often than 12 months then this is a sign of good oral health. It is important that you attend when recommended and don’t miss appointments.
Adults will continue to be offered a treatment plan which includes an extensive clinical examination. You’ll then receive any further treatments to manage and improve your oral health.
During your NHS dental examination 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, bumps or ulcers 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, the dental team will 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
During periods of time between dental examinations, if you have concerns about your oral health, particularly around any lumps, bumps or ulcers in the lining of your mouth, then you may wish to contact your dentist at the earliest opportunity and they will be able to see you sooner.
Your treatment plan
If you need treatment, your dentist will provide you with a treatment plan. A treatment plan is a document that helps to explain the treatment you need and what it will involve. It will also detail an estimate of how much the treatment will cost you. You may be exempt from NHS patient charges.
You can ask for a treatment plan whenever any treatment has been recommended for you. If you want to take a copy away with you, your dentist can arrange this. Ask a member of your dental team if you need help understanding your treatment plan.
From 1 November 2023, if you pay for your NHS dental treatment you may notice an increase in treatment charges. These increases are necessary to ensure that we are able to continue to provide NHS dental services and reflect the increase in cost of delivering the care required for patients.
Everyone in Scotland is entitled to free NHS dental examinations (including review examinations). For some patients all treatment is completely free.
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.
As before, NHS patients who pay for their treatment pay 80% of the treatment costs. This continues to be capped at a maximum of £384 per course of treatment. Any costs over this maximum continues to be fully subsidised by the NHS. You will never pay more than £384 per course of treatment. The vast majority of patients will pay much less than this cost.
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 is entitled to free treatment on the NHS?
NHS treatment is free for:
everyone aged under 26
people who are pregnant or have given birth in the last 12 months
those with certificated exemption from patient charge because of income or receipt of certain benefits
If you are exempt from patient charges during a course of treatment, tell the dentist and ensure that you bring the evidence with you.
Around 40% of all patients are exempt from paying a contribution towards the cost of their NHS dental care.
NHS Low Income Scheme
Others may be entitled to dental treatment at a reduced cost through the NHS Low Income Scheme (LIS). The LIS helps towards some or all of the cost of NHS patient charges for those who are not automatically entitled to free treatment, who may have difficulty in paying. Help under the scheme is income-related and based on an assessment of each person’s ability to pay.
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 National Services Scotland (NSS) Practitioner Services, for certain treatments and/or treatment plans of high value. This process may take a little time and delay your treatment slightly.
Are all treatments available on the NHS?
Not all clinical procedures performed by dentists are available on the NHS. Procedures which are cosmetic or aesthetic in nature are usually only available privately. For example, white fillings, tooth whitening or dental implants.
Your dentist will be able to explain what treatment is and isn’t allowed on the NHS. If, for example, you wish to mix NHS and private treatment on the one tooth, such as an NHS root canal treatment with a private white filling, then this is allowed. Your dentist can provide you with an estimate of costs involved.
The following table sets out patient charges for common treatment items. The overall NHS fee paid will vary from patient to patient depending on the overall treatment plan require, but you will never pay more than £384 for a course of treatment.
Most patients with good oral health would require an examination, X-rays every so often and preventive advice.
Check-up (examination) and prevention
Check-up and preventive advice (which can include a scale and polish if deemed necessary)
Two small X-rays
One large X-ray of teeth and jaws
Gum disease treatment
Course of oral hygiene and deep gum cleaning (over 1 – 4 separate appointments)
This also explains the role of the Patient Advice and Support Service (PASS) in providing independent, free, accessible and confidential advice and support to patients, their carers and families about NHS healthcare.
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.
You also have the right to take your complaint further if you feel necessary.
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 working days.
After considering this process, you can raise any serious concerns with the General Dental Council (GDC). The GDC is the UK-wide statutory regulator for dental care professionals. Their main purpose is to protect patient safety and maintain public confidence in dental services. They:
register qualified dental professionals
set standards of dental practice
investigate complaints about dental professionals’ fitness to practice