What the new dental recovery plan means for you

Are you struggling to find an NHS dentist? The new dental recovery plan might help you get the dental care you need.
Women with her mouth open whilst a dentist holds an implement in her mouth and looks in her mouth

On 7 February 2024 the Government published a dental care recovery plan. This is an issue we’ve been campaigning on for many years, as it’s the second top problem reported to us by the public. 

Check out how this might affect you and how NHS dentistry appointments will hopefully become easier to get. 

I haven’t been able to find a dentist offering any NHS appointments for a long time – does this plan mean I’ll be able to?

The plan recognises that your ability to get NHS dental care has been difficult, particularly since the pandemic. The plan proposes a variety of initiatives, backed by £200m of Government funding, to offer up to 2.5m appointments to people across England:

  • A ‘new patient payment’ - like a bonus – of between £15 and 50 - will be paid to dentists for every new person they see on the NHS if the person has been unable to be seen in the past two years. 
  • New mobile dental vans will see and treat people in 12 remote areas.
  • A £20k ‘golden hello’ payment will be offered to 240 dentists to work in ‘dental deserts’ if they agree to stay in the area for three years.
  • An increase in the minimum amount of payment all dentists get for NHS work.

How can I find out if dentists in my area have taken up these bonus payments and are offering more NHS appointments?

The Government says it will soon roll out a national marketing campaign to encourage people who've struggled to find an NHS dentist in recent years to contact dental practices. 

You can look up the NHS website’s ‘find a dentist’ tool to see if your practice is taking on new patients. 

Dentists must keep these listings up to date, but availability can change quickly, so you may need to ring around. 

Find out how to get an NHS dentist. 

When will extra appointments start to be offered?

Bonus payments will be offered to dentists from March 2024, but it’s down to individual practices to decide if they will take up these incentives to provide more NHS appointments. You may need to check at various times throughout the year with different practices. 

Will I have to prove that I haven’t been able to be seen on the NHS in the past two years?

It’s likely new patients will have to sign a form declaring that they haven’t been seen on the NHS for the past two years, if the dental practice they use is claiming the bonuses. 

Are the new patient appointments for adult or child patients?

Extra appointments are aimed at both adults and children.

Do I have to use the dental practice nearest me?

If you are easily able (and can afford) to travel outside of your area, you can try to be seen at any NHS dental practice in England. 

Dentists don’t work the same way as GPs – they get paid per treatment, not per patient and don’t formally ‘register’ patients. Dentists may agree to see you regularly and put you on an informal list, but they are under no obligation to keep seeing you as an NHS patient permanently. 

Will I have to pay for dental treatment under this new initiative?

Yes, you will pay NHS dental charges unless you are exempt. 

You do not pay any NHS dental charges if you are: 

  • on low-income benefits 
  • you are pregnant or have given birth in the past 12 months 
  • you’re aged under 18 (or under 19 and in full-time education)

Check out our article about getting the most out of your next appointment, including information on costs.

NHS dental costs

Is my area one of the 12 covered by new mobile dental vans?

Mobile dental vans will be in Devon, Gloucestershire, Somerset, Norfolk, Suffolk, Lincolnshire, Cambridgeshire, Dorset, Cornwall, North Yorkshire, and Northamptonshire. 

They will be staffed with salaried dentists, nurses and technicians to see and treat patients who find it difficult or unaffordable to travel long distances to the nearest NHS permanent dental practices. 

The Government is currently choosing a company from which to buy dental vans and details are still awaited on when they’ll be launched, how many days they’ll be in an area each week and how you will find out where they will be. 

Signing up for regular newsletters with your local Healthwatch is a good place to start to stay informed.  

Find contact details for your local Healthwatch to stay in touch.

Will my area be getting one of the 240 dentists who're being offered ‘golden hellos’ to work in certain parts of England?

The Government says it will decide on locations ‘in the coming months’. It will review the effectiveness of the £20k bonus payments in attracting dentists to ‘underserved’ areas before deciding whether to extend the scheme.

I’m struggling to afford charges for NHS dental appointments or treatment. Will this plan help me?

This plan has no changes to the level of NHS dental charges.

After last year’s 8.5% increase in dental charges – the biggest since 2006 – we called for a freeze on future charges. 

If you do not qualify for an exemption from dental charges, you may still be eligible for some help towards the costs by applying through the NHS low income scheme

I’ve got a young family, or I’m expecting a baby. Will there be more support to help my kids have healthy teeth?

The plan also announced the Smile for Life initiative , which will advise  families at Family Hubs in 75 council areas and nurseries on oral health for babies and how to instil good tooth-brushing habits in children.

Need more help finding an NHS dentist? 

Check out our article with top tips on how to find a dentist near you, what to do if you can't find a dentist taking new NHS patients and what to do in an emergency. 

How to find an NHS dentist