NHS dental treatment

This advice applies to Scotland. See advice for See advice for England, See advice for Northern Ireland, See advice for Wales

This page explains how to get NHS dental treatment in Scotland, how much it costs and who can get free treatment. 

How to get NHS dental treatment

It's best to register with a dentist who does NHS treatment and is accepting new patients. Not all dentists provide NHS treatment. 

Before you register, you should confirm that:

  • you are being taken on as an NHS patient

  • the practice can meet your needs - for example, if you are disabled. 

You stay registered until you change dentists or the dentist removes you from their patient list. 

You can search for dentists on NHS inform

NHS dentists don't have to accept you for NHS treatment. However, they can only refuse to treat you if they have reasonable grounds. They cannot discriminate against you because of who you are, like your religion or disability. 

If you feel you've been treated unfairly or discriminated against, you can complain. 

If you're not registered

If you don't want to register as a patient, you can get occasional treatment on the NHS. But you won't get the full range of NHS treatments.

You might also get occasional treatment if you're on holiday or away from home for another reason. 

Check your local health board website to find out how to get occasional care in your area. There might be a dental helpline for people who are unregistered or need emergency care. 

If you're disabled or have special care needs

You can ask the dentist to visit your home to give you dental treatment. 

Dentists have a duty to visit your home to give you dental care if all of the following apply:

  • you are disabled, physically ill or mentally ill

  • you can't leave your home without having someone with you 

  • you live within 5 miles of the practice.

There's no extra charge for a home visit. 

If they can't meet your needs, they might refer you to the NHS Public Dental Service. 

The Public Dental Service treats people who:

  • are disabled

  • get very anxious or have a phobia of dentists

  • need specialist dental care, like treatment under anaesthetic

  • can't leave their home

  • are homeless

  • can't register with a high street dentist because there aren't enough in the area. 

Your GP, dentist or another health professional might refer you. The services that are offered might be different in your area. 

There are resources on the British Society for Disability and Oral Health website

Changing dentists

You can change dentists at any time. For example, if your dentist stops doing NHS work or you move to a different area.

When you register with a new dentist, you're automatically removed from the patient list at your old practice. 

You should settle your bill with the dentist if you are leaving during a course of treatment. Check that your new dentist is prepared to continue your treatment. 

A dentist can remove you from their patient list by giving 3 months' notice in writing. The dentist should leave your teeth and gums in a healthy state unless you have refused any treatment recommended by them. 

If you are violent or threatening, they can remove you from their patient list right away. 

Dental treatment you can get on the NHS

As a registered NHS patient, you should get all the care and treatment you need to keep your mouth, teeth and gums healthy. You should also get any emergency advice or treatment you need. 

If you need treatment, you will get a treatment plan. This shows what treatment you will have and the cost. 

You usually cannot get cosmetic work on the NHS, like:

  • white fillings in back teeth

  • teeth whitening.

Some expensive NHS treatments must be approved before your dentist can start treatment.

If your treatment is refused, you can either:

  • pay to have the treatment done privately

  • appeal against the decision within 4 weeks. 

If your dentist offers private treatment

Your dentist might offer private treatment, like cosmetic work you cannot get on the NHS. It's up to you whether to have private treatment or not.

Dentists can set their own fees for private work. You will be asked to sign a form to agree to private treatment. Make sure you understand the costs before you sign. 

Your dentist shouldn't pressure you into private treatment. If you feel you've been given private treatment unnecessarily, you can complain.

Emergency dental treatment

Find out how to get emergency dental treatment on NHS inform

If you need treatment outside normal office hours, you only pay for your treatment. There is no call-out fee for the dentist. 

In an emergency, the dentist can give you temporary treatments, like temporary fillings. You should see your own dentist for longer-term care. 

NHS dental charges

Most adults pay for NHS dental treatments. 

However, NHS treatment is usually cheaper than private dental treatment. 

Who gets free NHS dental care

You can get free dental care if you are:

  • getting certain benefits

  • under 26

  • pregnant or have given birth in the last year. 

You might also be able to get help with the cost if you're on a low income. You can find out more about who gets help with health costs in Scotland

Speak to your dentist if you think you're entitled to free treatment. 

Everyone else pays for any treatment that is not free. 

Charges for NHS dental treatments

Some NHS services are free, for example:

  • dental check ups 

  • home visits

  • calling a dentist to the surgery in an emergency

  • repair or replacement of failed fillings or crowns fitted in the last year - unless private work has been done on the tooth. 

You must pay for other NHS treatments.

Treatment costs are set by the Scottish government. They're the same for all NHS dentists in Scotland. You pay 80% of the cost. 

The amount you pay is capped at £384 per course of treatment.

Find current dental charges on the Scottish Dental website

The Dental Practice Board checks the amount that the dentist charged. You will get a refund or another bill if the amount is wrong. 

A dentist can ask you to pay for treatment in advance. 

Charges for cancelled or missed appointments

The dentist can charge if you miss or cancel an appointment at short notice.

You should only be charged if:

  • there is a sign at the surgery explaining the charge for cancelled appointments

  • the dentist has lost income - if they were able to see another patient instead, they shouldn't charge. 

If you regularly miss or cancel appointments, the dentist might remove you from their patient list. You should get 3 months' notice in writing. 

Complaining about dental treatment

If you're unhappy with the service you have received at your dentist, you should make a complaint.

If your dentist provided dental treatment on the NHS, you can find out how to complain about NHS dental treatment

You can't use the NHS complaints procedure to complain about private treatment carried out by an NHS dentist. If you can't resolve the complaint with the dental practice, you should send your complaint about private treatment to the Dental Complaints Service run by the General Dental Council. You should contact the service within 12 months of:

  • the treatment taking place, or

  • becoming aware that you have something to complain about.

Find out more on the Dental Complaints Service website

If you've been treated unfairly because of who you are, it might be unlawful discrimination. You can find out more about discrimination in healthcare