Types of dentists and your rights as a patient
You can use a Health Service dentist with a set scale of charges, or pay for a private dentist depending on the type of dental care and treatment you want. Certain treatments such as cosmetic work are not available on the Health Service.
Due to the COVID-19 outbreak, patients are advised to contact their local dental practice for advice and referral for emergency dental care if necessary. More information is available from the Health and Social Care Board website.
You can receive additional treatments, or treatment using alternative materials, if you choose to pay privately either with your Health Service dentist or another practice.
As a patient in a private dental practice, you can get some specialist treatment and pay for cosmetic dentistry that is not available under the Health Service. For example, you can have white fillings on your back teeth.
Orthodontists specialise in moving and straightening teeth by using braces (orthodontic appliances).
Dental hygienists work in dental practices scaling and polishing teeth, giving periodontal (gum) treatments and oral health promotion advice. You should check with your practice whether this is available under Health Service or private arrangements.
Registering with a local Health Service dentist
You can apply to register with a Health Service dentist if they accept new patients. The dentist shouldn't assess you before they accept you for treatment as assessment is part of your treatment.
The dentist will decide and agree your treatment with you. They'll give you a treatment plan.
Once registered, you stay on that dentist's patient list for 24 months. This registration period will be extended if you return for another examination or further treatment during that period.
Cost of Health Service and private treatment
Private costs are set individually by each dentist and practice and vary from practice to practice. You should get a written treatment plan and estimate of costs before starting any private dental treatment.
Your dentist should:
- explain the benefits and drawbacks of any treatment they recommend
- explain alternatives that may be available
- have your permission before they treat you - you can refuse treatment if you do not want it (although if your dentist considers you need it they may refuse to continue treating you)
- explain your dental records to you if you have any problems in understanding them
As a Health Service patient you are:
- free to get a second opinion - if another dentist charges you for this, the Health Service will not cover this cost
- entitled to stop the treatment if you are not satisfied
- able to inspect your records and x-rays at any time (within a maximum of 40 working days of a written request) free of charge - but you may have to pay for copies
- entitled to receive emergency treatment from your dentist or another dentist
- entitled to refuse payment for the treatment if it is proved to be unsatisfactory
If you are a member of a private dental insurance scheme, the rules of the scheme will usually mean that the dentist has to give you a fixed period of notice to end the scheme.
Your dentist must finish your present course of treatment and provide you with any emergency treatment you need in the meantime.