No pain, but who gains?

PERSONAL FINANCE: Is private dental cover a feasible alternative to the ever-shrinking NHS provision? asks Harvey Jones

IF NATIONAL HEALTH provision is being nibbled away at the edges, then someone has already taken a big bite out of its dental services. Patients have always had to pay part of the cost of dental care, but it is increasingly hard to find a dentist willing to accept you as a NHS patient.

One in four adults is now a private dental patient, according to figures from the British Dental Association (BDA). Even those on the NHS have to pay 80 per cent of treatment costs up to pounds 340, with the state paying the remainder. Children, those on low incomes and pregnant women are still entitled to free treatment.

More than a million people already have private dental insurance to spread out the cost of charges and protect them against any particularly hefty bills. This figure may seem surprisingly high in a country where teeth are not considered a priority, and the toothy American grin of a Monica Lewinsky is greeted more with mirth than envy.

So are private dental plans worth having? The average adult patient spends nearly pounds 35 a year on NHS dental treatment, hardly a figure to break the bank or worth covering with insurance.

Should you need more than a routine check-up and silver filling, costs can mount. Root canal therapy can cost up to pounds 160, a bridge pounds 170 and precious metal crowns more than pounds 250.

Dental care plans divide into two types. Under capitation schemes, you register with a dentist and pay an agreed monthly sum for dental care.

Not all dentists offer these schemes. The alternative is an insurance or cash plan scheme, where you receive treatment at any dentist and the insurer pays toward the cost of any bills.

Capitation schemes are not strictly insurance. They are offered through dentists, but administered by insurers such as Denplan, Bupa and Cigna. The schemes meet the cost of routine check-ups, extractions, fillings, preventive care and hygienist work. More expensive treatment, such as cosmetic dentistry, orthodontics and laboratory work are usually excluded.

When you join the scheme, the dentist grades your oral health, then charges you accordingly. Dental plans typically cost between pounds 5 and pounds 15 a month. They will not necessarily save you money. They are designed to encourage you to take a proactive role in caring for your dental health and reduce the need for treatment through preventive care.

So who is likely to pay for these schemes? Going to the dentist is not everybody's favourite experience. Dental plan providers like to quote a Mintel report saying that one in five patients was prepared to pay pounds 12 a month toward dental cover. Denplan, the market leader, has 850,000 policyholders, with the number of customers rising by nearly 20 per cent annually, so the demand is out there.

You may even be covered by your employer, as dental care is becoming a popular staff perk. The Association of Industrial Dentists estimates that 12 million working days are lost each year through dental problems, and nearly one in 10 employers now offers dental cover.

Denplan's average monthly fees range from pounds 7 to pounds 22, with the average cost pounds 12, similar to the average pounds 11 monthly subscription to Bupa DentalCover. Costs vary according to the state of your dental health, the cover required, and the dentist's hourly rate.

The Denplan Care scheme covers all routine dental care, including check- ups, fillings, X-rays and preventive care, and even a 24-hour telephone helpline for emergency treatment. Supplementary cover includes pounds 600 per claim worldwide emergency treatment, up to pounds 10,000 toward dental injuries sustained in a motor or sports accident, pounds 60 cash for every night spent in hospital following dental treatment, and oral cancer cover of up to pounds 12,000.

For work involving laboratories, say for crowns and bridges, the plan covers the dentist's time, but excludes the cost of the laboratory.

Alternatively you can use a conventional insurance scheme, where you can use any dentist you wish and the insurer pays toward the cost of any treatment you receive. These policies often come in the form of cash plans, which pay lump sum benefits toward your health costs.

Some, such as the Hospital Savings Association (HSA), pay toward a wide range of services, including physiotherapy and chiropody. The HSA plan costs from pounds 1.50 to pounds 12 a month for family cover, depending on the level of benefits you require.

The Western Provident Association (WPA) has a specially-targeted dental cash plan, which covers both routine and emergency treatment, as well as serious dental problems.

Adult subscriptions to the WPA scheme range from pounds 1.74 a month for up to pounds 1,000 emergency cover a year, to pounds 8.25 a month for a more comprehensive plan. This plan offers pounds 10,000 toward dental injuries or other serious problems, including cancer, and will also pay half the cost of routine dental bills up to a maximum payout of pounds 135 a year.

Cash plans are simple to arrange as the subscription is the same for everybody..

Just over half the population is registered with a dentist. Dental phobia doubtless plays its part, as does laziness, but so does the growing difficulty in finding a dentist who will accept you as a NHS patient.

Research suggests that one in three of us faces difficulties in finding a dentist. The low-cost way of taking good preventive care of your teeth is a capitation plan, whereas a cash plan can help with the incidental costs of dental problems.

Bupa: 0800 237 777; Cigna: 01475 492 350; Denplan: 0800 401 402; HSA: 0800 150 150;

WPA: 01823 623 380.

caring for your teeth


NHS Private

Check up pounds 7.68 pounds 15-25

and X ray

Medium filling pounds 9.60 pounds 25-40

Crown pounds 59.68 pounds 125-200

(precious metal)


Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive / Foreign Exchange Dealer - OTE £40,000+

£16000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Foreign Exchange Dealer is re...

SThree: Experienced Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £40000 per annum + OTE + Incentives + Benefits: SThree: Established f...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE 40/45k + INCENTIVES + BENEFITS: SThree: The su...

Recruitment Genius: Collections Agent

£14000 - £16000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company was established in...

Day In a Page

The long walk west: they fled war in Syria, only to get held up in Hungary – now hundreds of refugees have set off on foot for Austria

They fled war in Syria...

...only to get stuck and sidetracked in Hungary
From The Prisoner to Mad Men, elaborate title sequences are one of the keys to a great TV series

Title sequences: From The Prisoner to Mad Men

Elaborate title sequences are one of the keys to a great TV series. But why does the art form have such a chequered history?
Giorgio Armani Beauty's fabric-inspired foundations: Get back to basics this autumn

Giorgio Armani Beauty's foundations

Sumptuous fabrics meet luscious cosmetics for this elegant look
From stowaways to Operation Stack: Life in a transcontinental lorry cab

Life from the inside of a trucker's cab

From stowaways to Operation Stack, it's a challenging time to be a trucker heading to and from the Continent
Kelis interview: The songwriter and sauce-maker on cooking for Pharrell and crying over potatoes

Kelis interview

The singer and sauce-maker on cooking for Pharrell
Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

Britain's 24-hour culture

With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

The addictive nature of Diplomacy

Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
8 best children's clocks

Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea