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NHS dentist complaints

This advice applies to England

NHS dental care is usually very good and most people don’t have any problems. But occasionally things can go wrong. This page tells you where to start if you have a problem with an NHS dentist.

What you might want to complain about

NHS dentists have to follow certain standards and rules and if they don't, you can make a complaint. Here is a list of some things that could go wrong but remember if a problem comes up that isn't on this list, you still may be able to complain. Examples include:

  • poor care
  • cross-infection issues, for example, using dirty equipment
  • the dentist is under the influence of drink or drugs
  • mistakes in prescribing drugs, for example, prescribing antibiotics without checking whether you're allergic to them
  • you're charged more for the treatment than you expected
  • the dentist fails to give you a treatment plan
  • the dentist doesn’t get valid consent from you before treatment
  • bad communication, for example, your dentist doesn’t explain why a certain course of treatment is necessary or how much the treatment will cost
  • poor record-keeping
  • discrimination, for example, a dentist refuses to treat you just because of your race.

You can’t find an NHS dentist who is accepting new patients

NHS England buys or commissions dental services to meet the needs of the local population, for both urgent and routine dental care. There may be a high demand for NHS dentists in some areas, and you may have to join a waiting list. You can do this by getting in touch with NHS England. You’ll be contacted as soon as an appointment is available but if this isn’t within a reasonable time, you should complain to NHS England, rather than to an individual dentist who refuses to take you on.

Private dental services offered by NHS dentists

When you see a dentist as an NHS patient, the dentist agrees to provide, on the NHS, any treatment that you need to keep your mouth, teeth and gums healthy and free from pain.

Some treatment isn't available on the NHS, such as white fillings in back teeth or dental implants (unless you have an exceptional clinical need for these). You have to pay privately for these treatments. The dentist is allowed to offer to do part of your treatment on the NHS and part of your treatment privately, which you must pay more for. However the dentist must make it clear to you which treatment can be provided on the NHS and which treatment can only be provided privately.

Your dentist must not press you into having treatment privately if it's available on the NHS, and they should explain all of your options and the costs to you before they start your treatment. If you've been getting NHS treatment, you should be given a form (FP17DC) to sign to agree to begin private treatment.

You can make a complaint if your dentist doesn't keep to these rules - see below.

Concerns about advertising

The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) can look into complaints about misleading, harmful or offensive advertisements by dentists. The ASA can change or remove a problematic advertisement.

The contact details of the ASA are:

Advertising Standards Authority
Mid City Place
71 High Holborn
London
WC1V 6QT

Tel: 020 7492 2222
Textphone: 020 7242 8159
Website: www.asa.org.uk

If the clinic is unclean or unsafe

Tell the dental practice what you’re worried about. If they don’t put things right, you can make a formal complaint - ask the practice what their complaints procedure is.

If you’re still not happy after they’ve replied, you can complain to the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman on their website. The ombudsman will only take action after you’ve followed the dental practice’s complaints procedure.

You usually need to contact the ombudsman within a year of when the problem happened.

If the ombudsman agrees the practice isn’t clean or safe, they can ask the practice to improve what’s wrong.

Making a complaint about dental services

Depending on what you want to achieve, you may have different options to make a complaint about dental services, for example:

  • use the NHS complaints procedure
  • report concerns to NHS England, or your local Healthwatch
  • report concerns to the Care Quality Commission - see below
  • take legal action
  • report a dentist to their regulatory body - see below.

Using the NHS complaints procedure

If your dentist isn't providing appropriate treatment on the NHS, you can use the NHS complaints procedure because the dentist is in breach of their NHS contract. The solution to the problem could be that the dentist is told to provide appropriate NHS treatment.

You can't use the NHS complaints procedure to complain about private treatment carried out by an NHS dentist. You should send these complaints to the Dental Complaints Service run by the General Dental Council -see below.

If an NHS dentist is pressing a patient into having private care which is available on the NHS, this could be a breach of the ethical standards that dentists must follow. If this happens, you can contact the General Dental Council - see below.

Reporting concerns to the Care Quality Commission

Dentists have to register with the Care Quality Commission (CQC) and the CQC carry out regular inspections of dental services. You can read their inspection reports on their website at www.cqc.org.uk. You can report concerns about a dental service to the CQC, for example, if you think a dental surgery isn’t keeping to the standards about cleanliness and cross-infection. But the CQC can’t usually investigate individual complaints.

Reporting concerns to the regulatory body

All dentists have to register with the General Dental Council (GDC) which is their regulatory body. The standards of the GDC apply to:

  • dentists
  • dental nurses
  • dental hygienists
  • dental technicians.

If a dental professional doesn’t meet these standards, they may be removed from the register and won’t be able to work as a dental professional. You can contact the GDC if you have a concern about the fitness to practise of an NHS dentist. An example is if an NHS dentist is pressuring you to have private treatment that is available on the NHS. 

Dental records

If you're thinking of making a complaint about your dental treatment, you may find it helpful to get a copy of your dental records first.

Get help

Depending on the circumstances, it can be difficult or distressing to make a complaint. It’s usually best to get help to do this, for example, from your local Healthwatch.

Next steps

Other useful information

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