It's truly shambolic say many dentists referring to the recent overhaul of the NHS dental service. The situation has become so bad that dentists are leaving the NHS in droves. Seven out of ten dentists have either quit the NHS or have signed their new NHS contract temporarily and "under dispute". This means that come July this year they have the right to refuse NHS patients and switch entirely to private practice.
The hullabaloo is all about the new NHS contract which many dentists allege has been rushed out and forced upon them without proper consultation. A survey in the Daily Mail found that almost one third of dentists were still negotiating deals with their health authorities just three days before the deadline. The final rush has led to resentment, anxiety and confusion amongst dentists over what is in effect a complex packages of changes.
As far as the patient is concerned, the new contract greatly simplifies charges. Instead of some 400 different dental charges, there are now just three standard charges. Patients will be charged £ 15.50 for each check-up, £ 42.40 for fillings irrespective of the number of fillings and £ 189 for more complicated work such as crowns and bridges. Each of these charges pay for a complete course of treatment, irrespective of how long it takes and no matter how many teeth have to be treated.
But dentists believe that these three price bands will persuade many patients to delay treatment leading to an explosion of tooth decay. Says Dr Anthony Halperin from the Patients' Association, "I'm concerned that many patients will wait until they need multiple treatments to try to get value for money. If that does happen, it is likely we will see a significant rise in tooth decay ".
This unprecedented exodus of dentists from the NHS means that up to 16 million patients could be left without state dental care. And there's no guarantee that if you do decide to go private, you'll find a dentist who'll treat you. There are reports that dentists are becoming very choosey about who they'll treat. It seems possible that some dentists will only accept patients who are well off or who have dental insurance.
So how do get insured? Well, without doubt, the Internet is going to be the place to find the best deals. Try searching under "dental insurance" and you'll find lots of options. Of course, many dentists will leave details of one or two insurance schemes in their waiting room but dentists are not insurance experts and are not in a position to provide expert insurance advice.
Insurance companies are now widely promoting dental insurance but they'll only sell their own products. We believe the best option is to find a specialised dental insurance broker. These brokers will essentially find you the best option from a wide array of dental insurance and dental capitalisation schemes. There is a third option – cash plans – but these tend to include a wide range of medical treatments with dental treatment being one small part of the insurance cover.
The problem for the patient is the wide range and complexity of the policies available. Almost every insurance policy is different with its own set of pros and cons. The broker's job is to assess your needs and come up with suitable policies within your budget.
A typical policy helps to set the picture for what's available. A policy with Western Provident pays the first 25% of each dental treatment but you claim up to £ 250 per year towards routine treatment such as check-ups, fillings and visits to the hygienist. Emergency dental treatment is often very expensive so you're covered up to £ 1,000 per year with the maximum claim for accidental dental injury set at £ 250 per treatment. The cost? If you're between18 and 49 the premium is £ 12.48. For those aged between 50 and 69 it's £ 15.90 per month.
A capitalisation scheme invariably works out the most expensive but it's the option favoured by many dentists. Before you take out a capitalisation policy, your dentist carries out an assessment of your dental health and places you in one of five or so, treatment groups. The group you're in then sets the cost of your scheme. The worse your dental condition, the more you pay.
For example, a capitalisation scheme from Denplan costs between £ 9 and £ 30 per month.
The last alternative is a composite health cash plan. These plans cover you for a wide range of health treatments from dentistry to eye treatment, hospital treatment, physiotherapy, chiropody even allergy testing. Each treatment has a maximum claim value but they tend to be a bit on the mean side. In our view, you're much better off with a dental insurance policy or a capitalisation scheme.
You pays your money and takes your choice!