Private dentistry – letting patients know the true cost of treatment

Private dentistry – letting patients know the true cost of treatment

Practice Plan sales and marketing director Nigel Jones speaks to dentist Lauren Harrhy about the current challenges dentists are encountering with patients.

‘Working at a more sustainable pace’

Nigel Jones (NJ): I’ve had conversations where people have said that during COVID, when they were forced to slow down, it showed them how they could be delivering care. The aim of most practices that we help leave the NHS and go private is not always to increase their income. It’s mostly been around working at a more sustainable pace and increasing the level of communication and building relationships with patients.

These are things that help mitigate the risk of complaints and litigation. It’s a much more sustainable way of working and that’s really what the NHS has to compete against if it wants to attract people back. 

Lauren Harrhy (LH): I agree. Some dentists have been looking down and just going through the motions for perhaps their entire career. The lockdowns gave them a chance to pause and take stock. When COVID forced us to slow down and raise our heads, we saw how we really should be looking after our patients.

I don’t know a dentist of a similar age to me that doesn’t have some sort of health complaint related to dentistry, or who hasn’t suffered mentally because of the pressure, overwork, and burnout. We talked about burnout a lot a couple of years ago, and that is what I see every day in my NHS colleagues. 

‘Patients have chosen to come to you because of you’

I still perform some NHS dentistry myself as I have a mixed practice, and the difference between the two sides is stark. When patients have chosen to come to you because of you, and who want you to look after them rather than just because you’re the only NHS dentist that’s available for 90 miles, that brings a different feeling to your day because they’re choosing to be with you. If they didn’t want to come to you, they could go elsewhere.

And I think that element of choice leads to better relationships overall. It means you can get to know those patients, their values, what treatments they may want, and what is important to them. You can deliver a better level of service which means you can take more pride in your own work. 

What we see in our NHS colleagues is admirable because we want to be there for patients who need us, who otherwise might not be able to afford to seek care. But there comes a point where we’ve got to stop this charity work and take care of ourselves. If I’m not well because I’ve been putting myself under so much pressure, I’m not going to be here for anyone, whether that’s private or NHS.

Only dentists can be dentists. Workforce data aside, there aren’t many of us. This may sound egotistical, but we are important parts of the healthcare system and of society. Each time one of us leaves, that’s a huge loss as we’re not easily replaced. There are colleagues who are becoming so stressed and burnt out that they just leave dentistry altogether, not just the NHS. Each one is a massive loss and it’s a real tragedy for the communities they serve and for the profession. 

‘Faith restored’

NJ: I couldn’t agree more. One of the reasons why I continue to do what I’ve done for 30 something years is because it’s so rewarding when you see someone who’s disillusioned with their chosen profession have their faith restored and start enjoying it again and flourishing. 

Your point about NHS patients choosing you because you’re the only NHS practice, as opposed to private patients making an active choice for you, is interesting and important. I was speaking to a couple of dentists recently who told me one of the things that made them nervous about going private was the potential for patients to be more demanding as they would be paying more. However, they found the opposite to be true and that the sense of entitlement that some NHS patients have just isn’t there with private patients. That alleviates one of the sources of pressure you were describing as leading to burnout, stress, and the mental health issues we’ve seen. 


LH: It is true that some NHS patients, do still say, ‘I paid my stamp, I’m entitled to this.’ That can be difficult because, if for example, you’re making somebody a denture, they won’t necessarily need a lower denture. They’re probably not going to use it, but they want one anyway, and you ask yourself whether you can justify not making them one? No, probably not. But you think about the lab bill you’ll be paying for something they probably won’t use, but they want it because they’re entitled to it. 

I can see it from a patient’s perspective. They pay their taxes and National Insurance and they’ve been told they’re entitled to all this so why can’t they have it? They don’t understand that at the other end of things you have a dentist who is probably having to put their hand in their own pocket to pay for their treatment. And that’s happening more as costs go up. 

‘I would like to see a system that is fair for dentists’

I’m quite honest with my private patients. I say: ‘Overheads are high in dentistry and the NHS has masked a lot of that over the years and patients have no idea what the true cost of providing healthcare is. And now you’re seeing that. But we’ll do our best to make that feel like value for you.’

While you get some patients who are more demanding, as they’re paying more, because they’re actively choosing to come and see you, generally, there’s less pressure than with NHS work. 

I would like to see a system that is fair for dentists and their teams and where patients are well cared for. One where, at the very least, patients can get access to somebody to get them out of pain, and where cost isn’t a barrier because I think everybody deserves a life without pain.

NJ: I agree. Thank you, Lauren.

If you’re considering introducing private dentistry into your NHS practice and are looking for a provider who will hold your hand through the process whilst moving at a pace that’s right for you, why not join us for a chat on stand K50 at Dentistry Show Birmingham on 17 and 18 May.

Otherwise start the conversation with Practice Plan on 01691 684165, or book your one-to-one NHS to private call today:

For more information visit the Practice Plan website:

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