Teething problems: Are dentists failing to fill consumers in on costs?

January 19, 2015
3 min read

Although a trip to the dentist may not be every UK consumer’s favourite pastime, today’s news that dentists may not be clearly communicating the costs of treatment could be leaving an even more bitter taste in patient’s mouths.

Confusion around NHS dental charges is not a new phenomenon for patients in the UK and the current price banding system appears to have done little to clarify the price structure.

While information on charges has to be displayed in surgeries, it still remains the case that dental practices do little to communicate this to patients when they are booking appointments or further treatment. The current NHS dental contract, under which patients have flexibility to receive treatment in different practices without registering, also does little to encourage a close relationship between dentist and patient. Building these relationships is also generally more difficult for young people, whose roots may be less secure and whose early careers are often more transient than their parents’ were.

23% of those surveyed by Mintel that have attended an NHS appointment suggest that they delayed their most recent treatment due to the cost

Mintel data suggests that nearly three quarters (73%) of patients that have attended an NHS dental appointment felt it was made clear to them they were being charged as an NHS patient. However, for younger patients, aged between 16-24, this number falls to 61%. While this may be partly explained by the exemptions received by under-18s and under-19s in full-time education, 65% of 25 to 34-year-olds still reported the same lack of clarity. By contrast, for those aged over 55, it is far higher at 83%.

This suggests that it is the younger generation of patients, who have less established relationships with their dentist, who are most affected by the lack of information. Equally, it may be the case that NHS dental services are focusing on communicating the latest pricing structure to older patients at the expense of informing younger patients. Either way, it is clear that dental practices need more precise guidelines around informing patients of their NHS treatment options and the varying costs.

In an economic climate where real incomes have been squeezed and household budgets tightened, it is even more important that people are not dissuaded from attending essential check-ups. Of those surveyed by Mintel that have attended an NHS appointment, 23% suggest that they delayed their most recent treatment due to the cost. Better communication around the price of basic treatments available on the NHS would almost certainly reduce this number of people putting off appointments.

For more information on Mintel’s Dentistry – UK, 2014 report click here .

Ben Harris
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