Category Archives: dentistry

Dental care in the UK: my introduction

Today I had my first dental care, other than a checkup I had last year just to get started with a local dentist. I had made an appointment for a checkup and “scaling” (the UK term for what we call a “cleaning” in the US), and I was kind of expecting the kind of cleaning I was used to getting. Dentistry is not covered under NHS care for most people, and I’ve been curious to find out how the cost would compare to what I’ve been paying in DC. I expected it to be somewhat less but relatively comparable.

Boy, was I in for a surprise.

Since I arrived in the UK I’ve been flossing more diligently than I did before (although I was never exactly a slouch), because I learned that Brits expect to get a routine scaling/cleaning only once a year (as opposed to twice in the US) and I knew I would have to be more conscientious in my own care of them.

I did such a good job, it turned out, that the dentist didn’t want to do a scaling at all. He said they don’t do them routinely here, and he said I had so little tartar that it wasn’t really necessary except in the lower front. But I said that I wanted one and was prepared to pay, so he did a light once-over and polishing. It was less extensive than what I’ve been getting (possibly because of my recent diligence in flossing) and it took only 15-20 minutes rather than 45.

I was amazed at the fee: a whopping £18. Folks, that’s only about $30. And that included the nitrous oxide. As I recall, the last time I had my teeth cleaned in DC (a year ago), I paid more than six times that much (including nitrous).

Dental care is pretty different here.

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Arranging for dental care

I just made my first appointment with a UK dentist. I’m not due for my semiannual cleaning and checkup until early April, but I wanted to go ahead and set up something to make sure I could get my needs met here. I’m going back to the US in mid-March and was prepared to ask my long-time dentist/hygienist for an appointment then if I couldn’t work something out here. You see, I’m a wimp when it comes to dental treatments — I have a very low threshold of pain and an emotional reaction to pain, and for 35 years or so I’ve been getting nitrous oxide for any dental care, even a routine cleaning. This gives me a feeling of floating and helps me distance myself from the pain and not care so much about it. It may also dim the pain a bit, but for me the advantage is more in how I feel about the pain than in the pain itself.

Unfortunately, I was unable to find a dentist in Newcastle who offers nitrous oxide. A friend in London had told me that Newcastle University has the premier program in Sedation Dentistry in the UK and that he thought nitrous oxide sedation should be fairly available in Newcastle. From what I’ve found, however, the only practices here that offer it are cosmetic ones, and the only sedation method they offer is intravenous… and I’m as nervous about IVs as I am about dental treatment! So I’ll be going all the way to South Shields. Fortunately, the dental practice I found is only 150 yards from a Metro station there. It’s probably about a 40-minute Metro ride from Jesmond to Chichester, plus a 10-minute walk to Jesmond from my flat, which means I’ll need to allow an hour or so to accommodate the wait for the train, but the nice lady on the phone said they have patients who come a lot farther than that.

My first visit will be just a checkup with one of the dentists, who will develop a treatment plan for me. At that point I can make an appointment for a cleaning. When I asked about NHS care, the lady said they do provide it but of course I’ll have to pay something above the NHS subsidy. I assured her that was no problem, saying that I didn’t have dental insurance in the US and am confident that whatever they charge me will be less than I was paying in the US.

I’ve been meaning to explore the area of South Tyneside anyhow, so if the weather is nice I may make a day of it, see what there is to see in that area and take the ferry from South Shields to North Shields.