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Not so great NHS dentistry

I have very healthy teeth, but my gums are a different matter. No matter how well and often I rinse with Listerine, floss, and use my fancy electric toothbrush, I get deposits around my teeth. I go in for a dental cleaning three-four times a year.

The first few times in London, I went to an office of a Russian dentist in a fairly remote part of the city from where we live. The dentist was a swell guy, but the dental hygienist in his office was a brusque Englishwoman whose work I did not enjoy. Sitting in her chair for 20-25 minutes was very much approximating a torture. At least, she cleaned my teeth quite well. The visits cost me £45 each, partially reimbursed by the private insurance from work.

I’ve gotten fed up with that lady eventually and went to a local to us private office instead, where the doctor and the hygienist were both a much more pleasant Englishwomen very gentle in their work. They were also thorough, cleaned my teeth extraordinarily well, and made the half-hour procedure as bearable as it can ever be. The visit cost me £90, about a sixth of which was later reimbursed by the private insurance.

This year, we made a decision to drop private insurance from our benefits. It cost us quite a lot in premium deductions, and all we had to show for it were minuscule reimbursements for a handful of visits a year.

For my first cleaning of the year, therefore, I was going to an NHS dentist. The visit there is not free, as some may surmise, but only costs £18. 90 versus 18 – there is a difference, especially in this economy.

Here is how it went:

Came in for an appointment five minutes before the scheduled time of 10:45am.

Sat in the waiting room for 40 minutes in an enjoyable company of several families from a certain slice of the society: The kids screamed and splashed their dribbling snot around, the mothers ignored them while exchanging local gossip, with an F-bomb heard twice in every sentence and at least three times in a sentence longer than 6 words…

Was called into the surgery room at 11:25.

Discussed my history and teeth-cleaning habits with the seemingly 18-year-old doctor and her assistant for a few minutes.

Walked out of the office at 11:35. In the intervening few minutes, the dentist looked at my teeth, recorded whatever measurements dentists record, performed some cleaning maneuvers for about 90 seconds, and sent me on my way with a “we removed some of the plaque – more frequent flossing would not hurt”.

I came home, looked in the mirror, and everything that I hope to not see after a dental cleaning is still right there.

Guess what are the chances of my return to an NHS dental office. I’d rather go and pay five times as much and get a reasonable service in return.

I hate socialized medicine.


  1. Paul Chaston

    Welcome to England through I guess by the age of your posts you have been here some time (BTY just in case you did not get it that was a bit of English sarcasm).

    Like you I have gum problems but unlike you also lots of tooth decay, whatever I do for example I now vist my private dentist 4 times a year and yet during my last 3 visits she still found decay.

    Anyway what I really want to say is: after having my teeth looked after for 25 years by Army Dentists and then for the next 15 years by the NHS I was finally forced to pay privately after my dentist stopped providing NHS care.

    Now after paying well over £3,000 and about 30 visits later my teeth have not looked so good for 30 years and have never been so well cared for.

    Yes its a struggle to pay the fees on my (very) modest salary and often we go without other things so I have the money to pay the fees but I really really wish I had changed my dental care to private 30 years ago. The care I get is so so much better. I pay about £12.00a month to be a member of the dentail practice and last week I had a deep clean, major filling/broken tooth repair and a very small new fill…. cost £100.00 for two visits and the attention of 2 lovely ladies taking care of me. Good value I reckon.

    Your site content interests me and its similar to mine so I`m adding you as a link in my Blogroll.


  2. Ilya

    Thanks for reading, Paul, and for the link. There is no argument that a private provider offers a considerably better service than a publicly-funded one. The question is whether a publicly-funded provider offer adequate service. In both of our cases, however different they are, the answer seems to be negative.

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