What's your pain threshold like?

As NHS dentists disappear, insurance plans are queuing up to fill the gap. Jean Eaglesham assesses what they have to offer

The disclosure last week that one NHS dentist was paid pounds 604,000 by the Department of Health for work carried out on patients, in addition to what the patients may have paid, underlines the increasing financial pain in going to the dentist.

The principle of cradle-to-grave cover, cheaply or even freely available to every citizen, has been abandoned. True, free treatment is still on offer to certain groups, including children and pregnant women. But three in four who receive NHS dental treatment have to pay for it. At present, patients pay 80 per cent of the cost, up to a maximum of pounds 325 for a course of treatment.

The set charges for NHS treatment are still far lower than typical charges for private treatment. Access to NHS treatment is not, however, automatic. The creeping privatisation of the dental profession means that people who do not qualify for free treatment are finding it difficult to find a dentist who will agree to treat them as NHS patients.

One in three people claim it is difficult to find a local NHS dentist, according to a survey conducted for the British Dental Association. The problem is worst in the South-east where more than half of respondents said it was difficult.

The BDA says its members are reluctant to take on NHS patients because of government underfunding. Others see the shift to private provision as inevitable. "Technological improvements mean the cost of treating a single patient can easily run into thousands of pounds," notes Marilyn Orchaton, of Clinident, an insurer.

Whatever the cause it seems clear that few people can rely on being covered indefinitely by the NHS. "Most dentists understand that free dentistry for all is an unrealistic dream," says Peter Sanders, of Bupa. This pessimism is echoed by a survey commissioned by the BDA last year, which found that most MPs questioned believed that NHS treatment would be available only to children and people on low incomes in 10 years.

This is all music to the ears of the big medical insurers, who are queuing up to offer plans to help cover the cost of dental treatment. Provided your teeth are reasonably healthy, however, you may be better off resisting their blandishments and forking out instead for the treatment as and when you need it. The BDA says: "Pay as you go may be cheaper than private dental plans for patients who visit their dentist once or twice a year."

Private dental plans come in one of three main guises.

Capitation schemes, which offer cover for routine dental treatment, such as check-ups and fillings, are the most common type. They are principally a way of spreading the cost of treatment by making a payment each month. The cost depends on the level of cover, your dentist's estimate of how much treatment you will need over the next year and their hourly fees.

The advantage of these schemes is that you cap the cost of standard dental treatment in any one year. But they also have drawbacks. The cost of the most expensive treatments (such as bridgework repairs, crowns and root canal work) is often not fully covered. If you have opted for the cheapest level of cover, they are likely to be excluded.

Capitation schemes also mean that you are restricted in your choice of dentist; less than one-third of dentists offer capitation schemes. Your choice is also restricted by the dominance of Denplan, part of the PPP Healthcare group, which controls more than 86 per cent of the market.

Other dental insurance policies give you the freedom to choose any dentist, but there are not that many policies from which to choose.

You need to weigh up the cost of the premiums against the likelihood that you may need to claim. WPA, which offers one of the few stand-alone dental insurance policies, estimates that claims for routine dental care, which you are almost certain to make, will repay around a third of the annual pounds 86.25 premium.

If you have got private medical insurance (PMI) it is worth checking what dental cover it provides. A handful, such as Clinicare's Carte Blanche, will offer extensive dental benefits as part of the package. Legal & General's Lifetime HealthCare policy offers an annual pounds 200 cash reserve that can be used to pay for routine dental expenses, although policyholders must pay the first pounds 25 of any claim.

But in most cases the cover is more limited. Prime Health, for example, offers cover for emergency (non-routine) treatment only as part of its main PMI policies; and to get even this level of cover added to other Prime Health medical policies, you will have to pay an additional premium of pounds 3 a month. If your employer offers you PMI as a perk, this may cover dental treatment. If not, you can probably pay to get dental cover added.

Jean Eaglesham works for `Investors Chronicle'.

PRIVATE DENTAL PLANS

Insurer Plan name Typical monthly

premium

BUPA 0800 230230 DentalCover pounds 6 to pounds 19

CDC 0181 848 1028 CostCare pounds 7.97 to pounds 10.50*

Clinident 01438 746868 Dental Plan n/a

Denplan 01962 828000 Denplan Care pounds 5 to pounds 15

Densure 01256 221001 Capitation Plans pounds 7.50 to pounds 17**

Norwich Union 0800 336825 Dental Care pounds 6 to pounds 17

Comparing the costs and benefits of private dental plans is difficult since premiums generally vary according to the individual, while the level of cover also varies significantly between plans. This table is a guide to the rough level of charges you can expect to pay for a given plan; it is not a comparison of those plans or the cover they offer. If your dentist tries to sell you a plan, check the cover very carefully before you agree to buy.

*pounds 10.50 for London, pounds 7.97 elsewhere. ** Plus one-off pounds 15 joining fee.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Finacial products from our partners
Property search

EU to scrap roaming charges in 2017: European Commission under fire for taking so long to act

UK consumer groups complained that British holidaymakers face another two years of mobile phone misery before the law comes into effect

On the money: Yorkshire building society has demonstrated that it is taking the P2P industry seriously

Is peer-to-peer lending a risk worth taking?

The P2P industry must do more to shake off an unjustified image of being too complex and risky for the everyday saver, says Andrew Hagger

Generating grievances: Scottish Power's Longannet station in Fife

Questions of Cash: Scottish Power says it's sorry - again and again

Six of the energy company's customer have cause to blow a fuse this week

Will Patisserie Valerie be the portfolio's sweet spot?

Derek Pain: 'Patience is a virtue but maybe I should cut and run'

Derek's portfolio is currently suffering because of his failure to be more ruthless

There are now more than three million people in “severe problem debt”

Debt managers are misleading vulnerable people, warns watchdog

One debtor was given a repayment plan that would have taken 125 years to repay

Challengers are smashing the traditional high street banks when it comes to offering decent savings rates

Ignore the new breed of savings institutions and you'll lose interest

NatWest has ripped up its pledge to never be the last bank in town

NatWest pledged five years ago it wouldn't close the last bank in town. Now villagers have been told the branch shuts in September

When the last bank closes, local shops quickly go out of business

Under new state pension rules we will all be much worse off

Why did no one notice? The Government hides behind complexity, says Neasa MacErlean

Bogus Islington landlord scams public for £20,000 in fake deposits

It’s not just Islington... Simon Read warns renters and landlords about a nationwide fraud operation

Questions of Cash: The paperwork wasn't right so I was left high and dry with a broken washing machine

A reader encountered a problem with a Currys washer/dryer care plan

Borrowers should steer clear of established providers to get the best rates

Interest rates have never been cheaper if you want a five-figure personal loan but for lower-value loans it's a very different picture

Personal banking: Banking chiefs at NatWest and RBS insist that they are over the worst of the technical issues but customers are still complaining of payment issues. NatWest has waived overdraft fees and told customers they can withdraw £100 more than their limit over the next few days

People’s bank in crisis again: What should you do about the NatWest/RBS meltdown?

Thousands still waiting for payments to go through

The average UK household is set to hold close to £10,000 in unsecured debt by the end of 2016

If they don't get help, debtors face 30 years of financial hell

There are many people in dangerous debt who don’t seek advice

RBS/NatWest meltdown: some customers may have to wait until Saturday for their cash

Some 600,0000 payments have been delayed many of which could be crucial

Renters' warning: bogus landlords are tricking potential tenants out of thousands

An army of tricksters are using online websites to trap their victims

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Money & Business

    Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Advisor

    £15000 - £16000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Advisors are r...

    SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

    £20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £45K: SThree: SThree were established in 1986....

    Recruitment Genius: Compliance Manager

    £40000 - £60000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Compliance Manager is require...

    SThree: Talent Acquisition Consultant

    £22500 - £27000 per annum + OTE £45K: SThree: Since our inception in 1986, STh...

    Day In a Page

    Seifeddine Rezgui: What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?

    Making of a killer

    What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?
    UK Heatwave: Temperatures on the tube are going to exceed the legal limit for transporting cattle

    Just when you thought your commute couldn't get any worse...

    Heatwave will see temperatures on the Tube exceed legal limit for transporting cattle
    Exclusive - The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Swapping Bucharest for London

    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

    Meet the man who swapped Romania for the UK in a bid to provide for his family, only to discover that the home he left behind wasn't quite what it seemed
    Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

    Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

    Solar power will help bring down electricity prices over the next five years, according to a new report. But it’s cheap imports of ‘dirty power’ that will lower them the most
    Katy Perry prevented from buying California convent for $14.5m after nuns sell to local businesswoman instead

    No grace of God for Katy Perry as sisters act to stop her buying convent

    Archdiocese sues nuns who turned down star’s $14.5m because they don’t approve of her
    Ajmer: The ancient Indian metropolis chosen to be a 'smart city' where residents would just be happy to have power and running water

    Residents just want water and power in a city chosen to be a ‘smart’ metropolis

    The Indian Government has launched an ambitious plan to transform 100 of its crumbling cities
    Michael Fassbender in 'Macbeth': The Scottish play on film, from Welles to Cheggers

    Something wicked?

    Films of Macbeth don’t always end well - just ask Orson Welles... and Keith Chegwin
    10 best sun creams for body

    10 best sun creams for body

    Make sure you’re protected from head to toe in the heatwave
    Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - Milos Raonic has ability to get to the top but he must learn to handle pressure in big games

    Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon files

    Milos Raonic has ability to get to the top but he must learn to handle pressure in big games
    Women's World Cup 2015: How England's semi-final success could do wonders for both sexes

    There is more than a shiny trophy to be won by England’s World Cup women

    The success of the decidedly non-famous females wearing the Three Lions could do wonders for a ‘man’s game’ riddled with cynicism and greed
    How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth: Would people co-operate to face down a global peril?

    How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth

    Would people cooperate to face a global peril?
    Just one day to find €1.6bn: Greece edges nearer euro exit

    One day to find €1.6bn

    Greece is edging inexorably towards an exit from the euro
    New 'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could help surgeons and firefighters, say scientists

    'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could become reality

    Holographic projections would provide extra information on objects in a person's visual field in real time
    Sugary drinks 'are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year'

    Sugary drinks are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year

    The drinks that should be eliminated from people's diets
    Pride of Place: Historians map out untold LGBT histories of locations throughout UK

    Historians map out untold LGBT histories

    Public are being asked to help improve the map