Private joke? Dentists 'are ripping off Britons'

It's hard to imagine a pain greater than a spell in the dentist's chair, but the bill afterwards can prove just as fearsome.

Fears that Britons are being “ripped off” by private dentists were serious enough to warrant an official inquiry by the Office of Fair Trading (OFT).

The OFT carried out a year-long investigation into private dentistry and found some patients in the UK may be paying up to four times as much as others.

The average dental examination costs £20.07. However, some private dentists charged just £9.50 while others charged £40. The cost of an amalgam filling ranged from £10 to £54.25.

The vast differences in the cost of treatments across the country generally arise from dentists who do not give patients the full facts.

Some dentists withhold information from their patients that they could save money by having the same treatment carried out on the NHS.

Private dentistry is a rapidly expanding market, currently valued at £1 billion, with around seven million people regularly receiving treatment.

A leaflet has been released as part of the campaign launched by the OFT, to try to combat the huge variations in the cost of private treatment. The leaflet includes the questions patients should ask in order to make more informed decisions regarding their dental care.

The OFT suggests patients should first ask to see a sample price list and compare the cost with other practices. Patients should ask for a written, costed treatment plan and a fully itemised bill after treatment.

But Ian Wylie, chief executive of the British Dental Association, says it is difficult for dentists to draw up a price list of services they provide.

“What we are actually talking about here is clinical care and clinical care is a complex matter.

“What we need to do is actually go through the range of treatment options with the patient so that patients are able to make informed choices about the sort of care available to them.

“It’s not simply a matter of being able to pick a pricing structure off the shelf.”

The principal policy advisor of the Consumer’s Association, Frances Blunden said: “The package of measures goes a significant way to tackling the problems in private dentistry, but much depends on how the proposals work in practice.

“The job now is for the government to make the necessary changes in the law to implement the reforms.

“It must closely monitor the situation to ensure that the package results in real benefits for consumers using private dentistry.”