Finding an emergency dentist – Inadequacies of NHS dental care

Dental emergencies typically include abscess in the mouth, swelling or severe pain, bleeding, cracked or broken teeth, loss of a crown, or dental trauma (i.e. knocking out a tooth). In order to avoid the risk of permanent damage, dental emergencies must be assessed, diagnosed, and treated quickly. But it can be hard to find an emergency dentist out-of-hours on short notice, especially an NHS dentist.

NHS or Private Dentristry

How to find an emergency dentist?

If you are registered with an NHS dentist and suffer from a dental emergency during in-hours, simply contact the practice. Most offices build in time to see emergency patients on short notice. They can tell you if the dentist can see you right away or if you should go to a local hospital for emergency care. Out-of-hours it can be more difficult to get in touch with your dental provider. You should still try calling your dentist to see if their answerphone relays information about who to call or where to go for emergency treatment. Or you can call NHS 111 to find someone with out-of-hours emergency dental care near you.


What do the patients expect from emergency dental care?

For NHS emergency dental care patients primarily expect dentists to provide symptom relief at an affordable price. They also want information about the cause of their pain and advice on treatment options, generally understanding that emergency treatment is only partial or temporary care. Unfortunately one in four dental patients is unhappy with emergency dental care, for good reason.

If you are unfamiliar with how NHS dentistry works, treatments deemed necessary by the dentist fall into three cost bands. The first covers basics like x-rays, molds, and exams. It also includes emergency dental care like pain relief or temporary fillings. The second band includes restorative treatments like extractions, root canal therapy, and non-surgical periodontal (gum) treatment. The third band includes the more complex treatments like crowns, bridges, dentures, other laboratory work, and orthodontic treatment. Each band requires a onetime fee from patients, except for emergency dental care. With that, if a follow up treatment is required, it counts as a separate, non-urgent treatment.

Infographic about private dentistry and dental care in NHS UK


Ineffectiveness of NHS Emergency dental appointments

The NHS dental contract puts dental care providers in a difficult position, and the system is vulnerable to abuse. The system may seem pretty straight forward, but there are several underlying issues.


Firstly, the new payment system makes it difficult to dentists to hit the targets they need to maintain their average income. A dentist carrying out the treatment for multiple fillings earns the same amount as treatment involving one filling. Also treatments that take no more than thirty minutes for adults take twice as long for children, but the dentist isn’t compensated for the time. The complex system allocates dentists with a certain number of “Units off Dental Activty” (UDAs) per year, and if they exceed that number they are not guaranteed government payment. It is difficult to work and provide emergency dental care under such tight constraints on budgets. As a result many practitioners leave their contract with the NHS and work privately.


Secondly, NHS dentists are not incentivized to treat patients with complex oral health problems. For the most part dentists are genuinely interested in providing the right treatment for patients and put the interests of the patient first. But in some cases instead of providing root canal therapy a dentist recommends extraction in an effort to save time and money.

Inefficiencies in NHS dentistry


Seek emergency dental care right away

And as it turns out, emergency dental care arrangements in the UK, or a lack thereof, often leads to the detriment of patient satisfaction with dental services in general. As a result, dental health in the UK is suffering, so much that many professionals say it is akin to that in Third World countries. NHS figures show that nearly 50 percent of the adult population of England, and over 30 percent of children, have not seen a dental professional within two years. Per year almost 62,500 people in England are admitted to the hospital because of tooth decay. And children under 10 are still more likely to visit the hospital for rotten teeth than for any other medical problem. To break this cycle it might be time to consider a new method. Seek emergency dental care from a private practice that puts the needs of the patient above all else.

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