Dental patients more likely to go private, as NHS waiting times increase

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More dental patients are choosing to go private, as waiting times for NHS appointments increase.

Private dental practices across the UK have reported a surge in enquiries as a result of difficulties getting an NHS dental appointment and increased interest in services that are not available on the NHS, such as cosmetic dentistry.

Some patients are contacting private clinics because they are unable to get an NHS dentist in their local area, while others want to find out more about services, including dental implants, tooth whitening, veneers and adult braces, which are not provided by NHS practices.

Dental services have been severely disrupted by the pandemic and the demand for NHS dentistry is currently outweighing the supply. Many people have contacted local watchdogs and their MPs to report issues with getting dental appointments, even when they require urgent care. Although practices were only closed between March and June 2020 during the first lockdown, there have been restrictions in place to control Covid-19 since and this has created huge backlogs. Over 15 million dental appointments have been cancelled or delayed in England.

Private dental firms are not required to adhere to the same rules as NHS clinics in terms of capacity and they usually treat fewer patients, which means that waiting times are significantly shorter.

Watchdog reports have suggested that many patients who have tried to get an appointment have been told to choose between waiting for an NHS appointment and paying to go private and see a dentist immediately. Private dental fees are more expensive than NHS charges, but some clinics offer payment plans, which enable patients to spread the cost.

Studies suggest that more NHS dentists are also choosing to go private, which is exacerbating recruitment problems and increasing waiting times.

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