How do NHS dental services work?

We have been receiving numerous calls from the residents of Camden about the various challenges they are facing in accessing the dentistry services in the Borough, especially in the last year.

Recently, Healthwatch England has also raised concern about the state of dentistry in their report, “Dentistry and the impact of COVID-19  following a 452% rise in calls and complaints to local Healthwatch.  Dr Michael Weider, Principal Dentist of the Maldent Dental Practice and Implant Centre, in this short informative blog, dispels some of the myths about the NHS dental services.

Unfortunately, the general public is unaware that Dental Practices work differently to the GP practices. This very often leads to confusion and frustration – especially when you are in pain with a toothache!  Let me dispel a few ‘Dental Myths’ and attempt to explain the way dental practices’ function. 

Issue 1

‘I saw my dentist a few years ago and now he says he can’t see me on the NHS, aren’t I registered?’

Dental Myths Buster

Unlike GP practices, there is no such thing as registration and being a patient of a dental practice providing NHS care. A patient is only ‘registered’ with practice while undergoing treatment. Of course, practices have loyal patients who become regulars of the practice and the practice sees them as such. 

Issue 2

‘My dentist said they have no more room for me on the NHS -but offered me a Private consultation.’

Dental Myths Buster

There is no such thing as an NHS dentist or NHS dental practice. The dental practice has secured a contract with the NHS for a specific amount of treatment or ‘activity’ under the NHS for the financial year and this varies from practice to practice. The NHS asks practices to spread out NHS dental care over the year as there is no extra NHS resource for more than the allotted activity. Therefore, a practice can reach its ‘capacity’ if it deems that seeing more NHS patients at a particular time will result in overactivity which the NHS will not fund. The only recourse for that patient would be to see that dentist on a private basis or seek to find another practice that has the remaining capacity to provide NHS care. 

Issue 3

‘I thought things are back to normal -now that the practice is open?’

Dental Myths Buster

Practice is NOT back to normal. The pandemic has profoundly affected the way we work, which is understandable considering the close contact we have with members of the public. You can no longer just turn up and see a dentist. All patients are pre-booked and telephone triaged before arrival, with questions relating to Covid in order to reduce the transmission risk to our staff and fellow patients in the practice. Social distancing means that we have to limit the number of patients in the waiting area. PPE is worn by all the staff and enhanced PPE is worn by the dentist and nurse when working with drills and scalers that create an aerosol. After those types of treatments -Aerosol Generating Procedures require the surgery to be left ‘fallow’ for a minimum time before the staff are allowed back in to carry out the disinfection routine. All of the above – and much more – is laid out to all practices by Public Health England – and inevitably means that we cannot see and treat the same number of patients as we would have done before the pandemic. The NHS estimates that on average, practices should be able to provide between 36-45% of previous “activity” and the NHS is asking us to prioritise treatments to certain groups of patients.

Issue 4

‘My practice couldn’t see me for my pain – but told me to call NHS 111’

Dental Myths Buster

For one or all the above reasons, the practice may not have been able to see you for your pain on the NHS. That is where your NHS safety net -NHS 111- comes in to play. They will triage your condition and either try and point you to another practice – or, in the case of severe swelling or uncontrolled bleeding, refer you to a specific emergency clinic.

What are some of the major concerns regarding the dental services about which people are contacting us?  

  • I am not registered with any dentist. I contacted around 10 local NHS dentists only to be told that they were not taking any new patients, though it was mentioned on their website that they were accepting new patients. What should I do?
  • I’ve been having some trouble finding an NHS dentist in the area and was wondering if you could help me?
  • I’ve used the NHS dentist search and called all the ones that come up but none say they’re accepting new NHS patients currently. Most say they’re accepting new private patients and have appointment spaces for them but I cannot afford the costs for it.

We continue to monitor the issues related to accessing the dental services in Camden. If you have experienced challenges while contacting the dentists, please contact us at