Dental Check Up: Cost, Procedure And What To Expect

Medically Reviewed By: Dr. Gemma Wheeler

(GDC Number: 259369)

In the UK, many people go to the dentist for regular dental checkups. 

Despite this, in 2018-19 only just over 36 million NHS checkups were completed for the almost 56 million people that live in England, with many people missing out for one reason or another.

For those people who haven’t had a checkup recently, I hope to give you plenty of information about:

  • Why you should regularly go for a checkup with a dentist.
  • What happens when you go for a dental checkup.
  • How much a dental checkup costs, and how to book a dental checkup.
  • How often you should visit your dentist for a checkup.

What happens when you go for a dental check up? 

The video below is a simulation of a dental checkup — it will give you a rough idea of how a checkup takes place. It features our in-house dentist Dr. Chhaya Chauhan, and Electric Teeth co-founder Jon Love.

Dental Checkup Appointment Demonstrated & Explained

A dentist needs to do regular checkups, or examinations, in order to spot any potential problems. This means that hopefully they can provide any treatment before you have any pain.

During the checkup your dentist will ask lots of questions, they will do a physical and visual examination both outside and inside the mouth. They will also look at your teeth and gums.

This whole process allows the dentist to:

  • Note what is normal for you and if there are any changes.
  • Diagnose any problems.
  • Make a treatment plan (if necessary).
  • Provide health advice tailored for you.
  • Assess your risk of developing dental diseases in the future.

Why go to the dentist?

Dental checkups are one of those things, in the UK at least, where everybody knows they should go, but so many people avoid it.

You may be wondering why it is so important?

A checkup will help your dentist to see if you have any mouth-related problems, and will help keep your mouth healthy in the long term.

More specifically, a dental checkup has a number of ways to help keep you and your mouth healthy:

  1. Looks for decay so that it can be treated at an early stage, before it causes any pain and before it needs complicated treatment such as root canal treatment.
  2. Checks the health of your gums, and provides early treatment of any gum disease to prevent it progressing and prevent bone loss.
  3. Checking for any signs of disease in your mouth such as viral infections or oral cancer.
  4. Provide preventative advice to help you keep your mouth and teeth clean and problem free.
  5. Help refer you to the appropriate person for further treatment if required, for example to the hygienist for professional cleaning, or to a hospital dentist for specialist tooth extractions.

Regular dental appointments will ensure that any issues are picked up early.

Treating a problem sooner rather than later is normally easier, less painful, and often cheaper.

Read on to find out exactly what the dentist does to look for these things, and often you should go to the dentist.

Dental Checkup Procedure –   a step by step guide

You may be wondering what happens when you see the dentist for a checkup, whether this is the first time you have been to that particular dentist, or whether you are returning to someone you have met before.

At each appointment your dentist will:

  • Ask you questions about your general and dental health.
  • Ask questions about your diet, smoking habits and alcohol use, and give you advice about these.
  • Examine your head and neck, mouth, teeth, and gums.
  • Discuss when you should come back next.

There are some small differences when registering as a new patient and I will explain these as I go along. 

Now I will discuss in much more detail what you should expect, going through the appointment from when it is booked to after you leave the surgery.

Person having a dental checkup

Booking your checkup appointment

Normally you would book a dental checkup in person at the surgery, or over the phone. If you are a new patient registering with the practice, the receptionist will need to take some basic information to register you on the computer system, and to be able to get in touch with you if needed. 

The receptionist will need your full name, date of birth and normally an address as a minimum. They would also ask for an email address or telephone number to contact you.

Returning patients will already have this information on the system, but the contact details should be confirmed again.

This is also a good time to let the practice know if you have any accessibility issues or if you need any extra help for your appointment. An example might be that if you struggle with stairs you can let the receptionist know so they can book you an appointment in a surgery downstairs. I have provided a list of questions you may want to ask the receptionist when booking your appointment for the first time.

Before going to the dental practice

Take any medications as normal before going for your checkup. It will be helpful for you to take a copy of your prescription with you whether you are a new patient or a returning patient.

It may also be courteous for you to brush your teeth before going to see your dentist. As well as giving you fresh breath, having clean tooth surfaces and gums will actually help your dentist see any changes in your mouth such as the start or decay or any white patches.

If you use denture fixative it is best to avoid wearing this on the day before going to the dentist. Again, it can cover the surfaces that the dentist is trying to look at. Not wearing denture fix will also allow the dentist to see how well your dentures are fitting.

At reception

On the day of your appointment, try to turn up at least 5 minutes before the appointment time. This is particularly important if you are a new patient as there will be paperwork to do. This can take 10 minutes or so, so best to ask reception how soon is best to turn up when you are booking the appointment.

The reception staff will let the dentist know that you are here.

You will confirm your details and may need to supply additional information to complete your registration.

You will need to complete and update a medical history form every time you attend an appointment. This is completely confidential, and if you need help you can ask the reception staff to help you with the form, as they have undertaken training to be able to assist you with this.

This information is important for your own safety. It will make the dentist aware if they could potentially cause any harm, for example, if they need to prescribe you any medications.

Some of the questions may seem irrelevant, but it is important to be as detailed and honest as possible. If you have any concerns you can discuss this with the dentist during the appointment. The medical history questionnaire will include questions about:

  • Smoking, drinking and recreational drug taking or habits.
  • Any allergies – including foods, medicines, latex.
  • Problems with your heart, lungs, kidneys, stomach, blood pressure.
  • Past surgeries you may have had.
  • Any other medical conditions.
  • Any learning disabilities or other additional needs.
  • Medications that you are taking – including prescribed, over the counter, and herbal remedies.

The medical history form may be a paper form that you sign and date before handing it to the dentist, or it may be on an electronic device similar to an iPad.

If you are having NHS treatment you will also fill in a special form at this stage, again this could be a paper copy or electronic copy. The form is signed by you and then returned to reception (or the dentist). If you are eligible for free NHS dental treatment (are dental charge exempt) this information will be included on the form and you will need to be able to provide evidence for this.

Provided you have arrived in plenty of time, hopefully now you will be able to sit and relax in the waiting room and enjoy a magazine for a short while.

Dentists can run late for appointments, but if you are waiting beyond 10 minutes after your appointment time, it may be worth checking with reception.

In the dental surgery

Dental studio and equipment

A dental nurse or your dentist will collect you from the waiting area and take you to the dental surgery. They will normally start by introducing themselves and asking about you.

Each dentist has their own method for completing a checkup and doing their notes. Some dentists will write or type into the computer as they talk to you, and some may ask their nurse to do this.

There are some questions and checks that have to be done at every checkup, and some additional information that different dentists like to ask to get a better picture about you, your lifestyle, and how they can help you.

A typical dental checkup will use the following routine:

  1. Confirm who you are, checking they have the correct notes available.
  2. Double check the medical history.
  3. Ask you if you are in any dental pain today, or if you have had any problems with your teeth, gums, or mouth recently. They will also ask if there is anything in particular you want to know about (for example whitening or dentures).
  4. Ask you questions about:
    • the last time you saw a dentist and any previous dental work.
    • smoking and alcohol intake.
    • brushing and tooth cleaning habits.
    • denture cleaning habits.
    • sugar and drink intake.
  5. An extraoral examination. 
Dentist performing a visual check of a patient during an appointment

This is a visual and physical check of your head and neck from the outside.

They will gently feel underneath your chin, jaw and neck as well as possibly your scalp. These areas contain salivary glands (which produce the saliva which keeps your mouth feeling moist) and lymph nodes (which help your body to fight infection). They will also have a feel of the jaw joint (temporomandibular joint). Dentists are looking for:

  • Swellings such as lumps and bumps.
  • Changes to the skin or moles.
  • White and red patches.
  • Facial asymmetry (if the left and right side look different from each other).
  • Joint clicking and mobility.
  • Anything else which could be cause for concern.

6. An intraoral examination of the soft tissues. 

Open mouth showing teeth, tongue and throat

This means they are looking inside the mouth and involves using a 3-in-1 syringe (air and water blower) and a mirror.

In some cases, your dentist may also use some gauze. The dentist is looking at your cheeks, inside your lips, at your tongue and underneath your tongue, at the back of your throat, the gums.

Again, they are looking at how healthy these tissues are, checking for:

  1. Lumps and bumps.
  2. Ulcers.
  3. Bleeding.
  4. White and red patches.
  5. Signs of infection.
  6. Normal amounts of saliva.
  7. Signs of damage such as from smoking or denture wear.
  8. Anything else which could be a cause for concern.

7. Examination of the teeth.

Dentist examining a patient's teeth

If you are a new patient they will make a note of the teeth you have in your mouth, as well as any existing holes, fillings, tooth wear, crowns, bridges and anything else of note.

To do this they will use a 3-in-1 which can gently blow air onto the teeth to remove the saliva and any small amounts of food. They will also use a special metal instrument, called a probe, to feel around the teeth.

8. Examination of the gums.

The dentist will use a special probe to do what is called a Basic Periodontal Examination (BPE) – read on to find out more about this.

At this point, if your dentist thinks you need them, they will take radiographs (x-rays). Modern x-rays are normally digital and can be seen on the computer shortly after. This is a quick and painless process, which I describe below.

After your dentist has completed the assessment and examination they will take the time to round up the findings. They can then discuss any treatment options and give you the chance to ask questions. 

They will let you know what future appointments are needed. 

An important part of the checkup process is discussing when your next checkup should be, and explaining why this may be shorter, or longer, than 6 months away.

Special tests during a dental checkup

As well as looking and feeling during a dental checkup, the dentist may want extra information about your teeth and gums to help them spot disease or make a plan for treatment.

Such special tests include:

  • Dental radiographs – also known as x-rays.
  • The Basic Periodontal Examination (BPE) – a routine way of monitoring the health of your gums.

Dental Radiographs

Firstly, you may be wondering why your dentist wants to take x-rays? 

Well dental radiographs, or x-rays as they are otherwise known, are an important tool for dentists.

Radiographs help by showing the dentist the inside of the tooth (as opposed to looking in the mouth, where the dentist is only able to see the surface of the tooth). 

This is useful because early decay and other problems may not always show obvious physical signs. 

With the extra information your dentist can help diagnose and treat problems with your teeth and gums.

Radiographs are safe as the radiation dose is very low, and despite this they provide a lot of information. 

Radiographs are used to look at:

  • Dental decay (caries).
    • With radiographs, dentists can see if the decay goes deep and close to the nerve, or whether it is just in the outer enamel layer.
    • They can also see the spot where two teeth meet each other, the interproximal space, one of the most common places for decay to start, and impossible to see without radiographs.
  • Bone loss around teeth.
    • Advanced gum disease involves the loss of bone around the teeth. Dentists can see whether the bone levels around a tooth have changed by comparing radiographs over time.
  • The state of the nerve of a tooth.
    • You may have damaged the tooth at some point leading to the nerve placing a protective layer down and pulp sclerosis – this often leads to a dark tooth. Whilst a radiograph cannot tell you whether a tooth is dead or alive, it can give valuable information to help make decisions about treating a tooth.
  • Infection at the tip of the root (periapical infection or dental abscess).
    • Infection of a tooth leading to an abscess can often be seen on a radiograph as a dark patch at the tip of the root. This is because the abscess causes damage to the bone in this area.
  • Fractures in the tooth, the root, and the bone surrounding the root, especially after an accident.
  • The state of root fillings to the very tip of the tooth.
    • Radiographs are taken throughout a root filling procedure. They are also taken a year or more after to assess whether the root filling has been successful.
  • The shape of tooth roots before any potential extractions.
  • Locating unerupted or missing teeth, particularly in children who need braces (orthodontic treatment).

There is technically no such thing as  “routine x-rays”, and all dental radiographs must be justified before they are taken.

A clinical examination (at the very least a discussion with your dentist) should take place before any radiographs are taken. Your dentist will explain why they think it is necessary to take radiographs at this stage.

There are three very common types of dental radiographs:

  • Intraoral periapical radiograph. 

This is a small radiograph used to look at the whole tooth including the crown and the roots of the tooth.

One radiograph will normally show between one and three teeth, but this does vary. This is the type of radiograph used to assess root fillings or to look for root fractures. These are taken if you have any cause for concern.

  • Bitewing radiographs. 
Example of x-rays taken during a dental checkup
Image Source: Dr. Phillip Parker

These are the most common type of radiographs to be taken at checkups.

They show the crown of the tooth, including the areas where teeth meet the teeth next door. They also show the bone levels.

These radiographs are used to look for tooth decay and gum disease. These may be taken every 6 to 24 months depending on your risk of decay.

  • Panoramic radiographs – OPG/OPT/DPT.
Second example of x-rays taken during a dental appointment
Image Source: Wiki Media

This is a larger radiograph which shows all the teeth and bone levels. It also shows the position of sinuses (air pockets above the top teeth), and in some cases also shows the position of some nerves (such as near to the wisdom teeth). The jaw joints can also be seen on a panoramic radiograph.

Not all dental practices have the machine for this, and so you may need to go somewhere else. It involves the use of a scanner that moves around your head, taking less than 60 seconds to do so. 

These radiographs have the highest dose of radiation and should only be taken in special circumstances.

Are dental radiographs safe?

Mostly.

Dental radiographs involve the use of radiation. 

This always carries a risk of damage to the cells that make up your body.

Whilst this sounds scary, the dose of radiation received is actually very small. Modern digital radiographs as well as newer techniques mean that these now have a much lower dose than ever before. 

In fact, one intraoral radiograph has a radiation dose equivalent to one day of natural background radiation (in other words, standing outside for a day!).

Even though they are very low levels of radiation, dentists still follow strict guidelines about when they can do radiographs.

Should I have dental radiographs if I am pregnant?

You should always tell your dental team if you think you could be pregnant.

The risks to an unborn baby associated with the radiation from dental radiographs is low.

With dental radiographs, a small amount of radiation is directed only towards the teeth and does not normally point towards any other part of the body, and this reduces the risk of accidentally radiating elsewhere.

This is also why dental radiographs can be performed on pregnant women if required, and the Faculty of General Dental Practice advises that there is no need to delay until after birth.

That said, dentists recognised that the use of radiation and x-rays during pregnancy can be alarming to mothers, and you can decline non-urgent dental radiographs if you wish.

How often should dental radiographs be taken?

How often radiographs are taken depend on risk assessments completed by your dentist. For example, if you have tooth decay, active gum disease, or lots of old fillings, you are more likely to need radiographs on a more regular basis. Dentists do follow guidelines for this. 

If you have no fillings and no signs of gum disease, you do not need radiographs so often. You also don’t need to come for a checkup so often either!

BPE

Close-up of teeth being examined
Image Source: Wiki Media

At each dental checkup the dentist will do a brief examination of your gums, this is called the Basic Periodontal Examination (BPE).

The BPE is recommended by the British Society of Periodontology and the Faculty of General Dental Practice as a part of basic checkup. 

The purpose of the BPE is to quickly assess whether or not further examination or treatment of the gums is required. It gives the dentist an idea of whether or not you have gum disease.

In most cases, the BPE takes only a minute or two to be completed.

A slightly different version of the BPE should be completed on all children from the age of 7. The full version of the BPE should be completed on all adults with teeth.

It is completed by using a special probe to gently feel 6 spots around every tooth. This probe is very thin, and has a small ball at the end, so it is completely blunt.

This measures

  1. The difference in height between the bone around the tooth and the top of the gum.
  2. Whether the gums are bleeding or not.

The mouth is split into 6 areas (sextants) and each tooth is scored between 0 and 4, and with or without a *. The tooth with the highest score is the score for that sextant.

The score will be read out as a series of numbers between 0 and 4.

Scoring card from the British Society of Periodontology
Image Source: British Society of Periodontology

The BPE will help your dentist refer you to the correct person for further treatment, if required.

Scores 0-2 do not normally require extensive treatment. A score of 1-2 indicates early gum disease (gingivitis) and will benefit most from advice to improve cleaning at home. You may also wish to see a hygienist privately for professional cleaning, and this may be offered on the NHS by your dentist if they think it is clinically necessary.

Scores 3, 4 and * typically indicate more advanced gum disease and will require professional cleaning and personalised advice about keeping your gums as clean as possible. This treatment may be offered as NHS treatment or privately.

The BPE itself should not hurt. However, if you do have active gum disease you may experience a lot of bleeding, and some areas may be uncomfortable when feeling them. Your dentist only needs a short amount of time to feel each area and will move on quickly, but if you are concerned it is worth mentioning this to your dentist.

With treatment and improvement in the health of your gums, the BPE should not be uncomfortable at all.

The language of dentistry

One of the most nerve wracking bits about going for a dental checkup is all the jargon, and you may spend the entire time thinking “what are the numbers and words a dentist calls out during a check up?”.

Well, the dentist isn’t trying to hide anything from you, they are just trying to describe what they are seeing. This special language is not unique to dentistry, and the words (often based on latin) are used throughout different types of medicine.

I have put together a small table to explain some of these words – if there is anything you think I have missed, please leave a comment at the end and I will get back to you!

Diagram showing the numbering of teeth
WordWhat it means Notes
Words describing teeth
IncisorTooth number 1,2Front teethCan have central and lateral incisors
CaninesTooth number 3Fang teeth/ i-tooth
PremolarsTooth number 4,5Chewing teethCan have first and second premolars
MolarsTooth number 6,7,8Largest chewing teeth, at the backCan have first and second molars (3rd molar is a wisdom tooth)
Words describing location
MaxillaryUpper tooth or jaw
MandibularLower tooth or jaw
InterproximalBetween two teeth
AnteriorAt the front
PosteriorAt the back
MesialTowards the midline
DistalAway from the midline
OcclusalOn the biting surface
GingivalTo do with the gums or towards the gum line
CoronalOn the crown (tooth surface)
Types of fillings
amalgamMetal filing
compositeWhite filling
GIC/glass ionomerA type of white filling, usually temporary but can be used as a permanent filling or as a glue
Types of lab work
BridgeA fake tooth stuck to the tooth next doorWing how it is attached to the tooth next door – may be metal or a crownpontic the fake tooth
PBC/porcelain bonded crownA cap on a tooth that has metal underneath for strength but a porcelain/ white cover to improve appearance
Metal or Gold crownA cap made purely of metal or gold
RPDremovable partial dentureA plate with fake teeth on that can be removedCan be plastic or metal

NHS vs private checkups

So far I have mostly talked about NHS dental checkups, but you may be thinking that you would prefer a private dental checkup?

Seeing as NHS dental care is available for most people, what is the difference between an NHS dental checkup and a private dental checkup?

Well, in many ways there is not a lot of difference.

The purpose of an NHS dental checkup and private dental checkup is the same – looking for disease and providing advice.

The biggest differences when having a private checkup are waiting list times (expect to be seen sooner if paying privately), and in fact some dental practices only accept private patients.

You will also likely be given more time for a private dental checkup compared to an NHS dental checkup. This is especially true for patients who are new to a practice. Expect a private new patient examination or assessment to be longer than an NHS one – this can be half an hour or even more if you are paying privately.

Private checkups are also available on payment plans, where you pay a monthly fee to include your checkups and hygiene treatment throughout the year.

Costs

The cost of a private checkup can vary greatly. This is because the price is set by the practice and is not regulated by the Government (unlike NHS treatment).

Money on a table

A new patient appointment is normally more expensive than a standard checkup appointment. You could pay between £50 and £100, sometimes even more for this initial appointment. This is because the appointment is often longer to give you time to discuss any problems or concerns, and to take and x-rays if needed.

Regular checkup appointments for private patients can be cheaper than the initial assessment when you return to the same dental practice. 

For private pay-as-you go appointments, expect to pay between £30 and £50 for your dental checkup.

If you have opted for a monthly payment scheme, your dental checkups are normally included in the monthly price, so when you have your checkup you do not pay anything.

Some things to consider when you are looking at the cost of a private appointment:

  • Corporates or chains or dental practices can be cheaper than an independent practice (but not always). With these types of practice the price is normally the same no matter where you are in the UK.  Some common chains of practice include myDentist, Bupa Dental Care and Rodericks (although there are others available).
  • Independent practices set their own fees, so even in the same town prices can vary greatly. If you are looking for a dentist and it does not have a corporate logo, it may be an independent practice. It is worth looking at different practices in the same town to compare prices.
  • Prices can vary depending on where you are located in the UK, with the South of England often being the most expensive. If you commute for work, it might be worth comparing the costs of dental practices between your home town and where you work.

I cover the various costs of dental work in more detail in my post on NHS and private dental charges.

Everything you need to know about booking your dental checkups

What is the cost of a dental checkup?

The cost of a dental checkup varies depending on whether you have an NHS dental checkup or a private dental checkup.

Firstly, an NHS dental checkup has a fixed cost in England, Wales and Scotland. This cost is different depending on which country you are in. In Northern Ireland, the price can vary depending on whether a basic or a detailed examination is required. 

TreatmentCharge – EnglandCharge – WalesCharge – ScotlandCharge – Northern Ireland
Checkup U18sFreeFreeFreeFree
X-rays U18sFreeFreeFreeFree
Checkup 18-2523.80FreeFreeFrom £7.03
X-rays 18-25included£14.70From £5£4.90
Checkup Over 18s£23.80£14.70FreeFrom £7.03
X-rays Over 18sincludedincludedFrom £5£4.90
Checkup over 60£23.80FreeFreeFrom £7.03
X-rays over 60included£14.70From £5£4.90

In some cases, you may not have to pay at all for a dental checkup. This is always the case for treatment if you are:

  • Under 18 years old (children).
  • Under 19 years old and in full-time education.
  • Having treatment by a hospital dentist whilst you are in a hospital as an in-patient.
  • Getting treatment from hospital dental services.
  • Getting treatment from community dental services (although you may still need to pay for labwork such as dentures).

If the above does not apply to you, but you might struggle to pay for treatment, there are also exemptions – special circumstances that entitles you to free NHS dental care. This is covered in more detail in our post on NHS charges, but to summarise, free NHS dental care is available for:

  • NHS Tax Credit Exemption Certificate
  • Maternity Exemption Certificate.
  • Pension Credit Guarantee Credit or Pension Credit Guarantee Credit with Savings Credit

If you have a low income, but are not eligible for exemptions, you can get help paying for health costs with the Low Income Scheme.

If you are not exempt from treatment costs, then you will need to pay the prices in the table above.

How often should you go to the dentist?

Visiting The Dentist

You may think the answer to this is simple, and that you need to go for a dental checkup every six months.

Well that isn’t strictly true.

In fact, how often you go for a dental checkup varies from person to person.

The short answer is that your dentist will tell you at your checkup or after any treatment, when they would like you to return for your next checkup.

During your checkup your dentist does a number of risk assessments, including:

  • Decay risk (high, medium, low)
  • Gum disease risk
  • Tooth wear risk
  • Cancer risk

How well you look after your teeth at home, previous dental treatment, and other factors such as smoking, will all have an impact on these risk assessments.

Dentists follow advice when undertaking these risk assessments, such as guidelines released by National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), Scottish Dental Clinical Effectiveness Programme (SDCEP), Faculty of General Dental Practice (FGDP) and the Cochrane Library.

Dentist examining teeth

If you are higher risk in one or more categories, your dentist will want to see you more regularly than if you are low risk for everything.

The good thing is that you can change these risks at home so that you can go for a dental checkup less often.

For example, brushing your teeth twice a day with an electric toothbrush using a fluoride containing toothpaste, and decreasing your sugar intake by no longer adding sugar to tea and coffee, are both simple ways to reduce your risk of dental decay.

And what about if you have no teeth? 

Well then yes, you should still go for regular dental checkups even if you have no teeth. This is because the dentist can also check how well your dentures are fitting, as well as assessing how healthy your gums are, checking for cancers, and providing advice on how to best look after your dentures.

If you are an NHS patient, it is important to follow the guidance of your dentist, and not to go back too soon. This will allow your dentist to see more patients and reduce long waiting lists.

If you are a private patient you may be on a payment scheme that includes two checkups per year. It is up to you whether you continue to pay for this scheme whether or not you have a checkup twice per year, or discuss switching to a different scheme.

Cancelling a dentist appointment 

Dental checkups and appointments are often booked a long time in advance.

Often, people book their checks six months or more in advance (at the last checkup). Anything could happen in the meantime.

Sometimes, unfortunately, something can happen which means you can no longer make it to your appointment.

In which case, you need to cancel your appointment.

Different dental practices have different policies when it comes to cancelling your dental appointment, but as a rule of thumb, the more notice you can give the better.

Try to give at least 24 hours (one working day) notice. This gives the dental practice time to offer your appointment to somebody else.

Anything less than this can be counted as a short notice cancellation, which is treated the same as a missed dental appointment.

Think of it another way, when you are calling to cancel your appointment the night before for the first appointment in the morning, do you think that space can be filled?

Having short notice cancellation and missed dental appointment policies makes sure that as many patients can be seen as possible, so that waiting lists don’t grow too long, and so that patients in pain can be seen as soon as possible.

Dentist in scrubs

Can I be charged for a missed dental appointment?

No, you cannot be charged by missing an NHS checkup appointment. This is a rule set by the NHS.

NHS courses of treatment will be closed down if you do not return for treatment within 2 months of your checkup.  

If you fail to attend appointments for your course of treatment, even if it is within the 2 month time scale, the course of treatment may also be closed down. 

The treatment plan may also be closed down before the 2 month point if your dentist tries getting in contact with you multiple times, but you still don’t get booked in.

As above, you will be expected to pay for a new checkup when you do return. You can be charged for missing a private dental checkup. This is set by the practice, and you should ask the practice for their policy if you are in any doubt.

When can a dentist strike you off?

There are no central rules for when an NHS dentist can strike you off, or refuse to treat you.

A dentist may refuse to treat you if they feel there has been a breakdown in the professional relationship – i.e. there has been a break down of trust between you, for whatever reason. In this case another dentist at the same practice may offer to treat you instead.

If you continually turn up late, cancel appointments at short notice, or do not show up, the dentist can refuse to see you. As explained above, your course of treatment can be closed down if you do not show up. 

The practice will send you a warning letter before they strike you off. It is common to have a three strike policy.  

Generally speaking if you are too late for your appointment, cancel appointments at short notice, or do not show up multiple times, then the dentist can refuse to see you. 

Again, ask your practice what their policy is on this.

Do you have to go to the hygienist every time?

The short answer is no, you do not need to see the hygienist every time you have a dental checkup.

But this all depends on how healthy your gums are.

Patient having a hygiene procedure carried out
Image Source: EMS Dental

I have discussed the role of the hygienist and whether or not you need a professional clean in this article about gum disease and this article about scaling and polishing.

If you have previously had treatment on your gums with the dentist or hygienist, they may recommend regular hygienist appointments to help prevent gum disease returning, or to continue the treatment of gum disease.

Because of this, you may book each hygienist appointment to coincide with your checkup appointment.

If your gums are healthy, you do not need to see the hygienist at every checkup, however you may like the feel of the cleaning, or like the stain removal effect, in which case you may choose to book this at each checkup.

If you pay for a private payment plan that includes regular cleaning, you may also wish to book your hygienist appointment for straight after your dental checkup.

If you have not had a hygienist appointment before, the BPE your dentist does during the checkup will help to inform you if you should book a hygienist appointment in the future.

Should you go to the dentist if you have a cold?

Generally speaking, it’s best to avoid going to the dentist if you are unwell. 

So should you go to the dentist if you have a cold?

Well, a cold is unlikely to cause too much of a problem for you or the dentist. If you feel well enough to lie back for the 5 minutes or so that a checkup requires,then there is no problem attending your checkup with a cold. 

This is obviously different if you are having treatment and need to lie back for a long time, as you will struggle breathing. In which case it may be better to rebook.

If you do have enough notice to be able to cancel without a short notice cancellation, you may wish to rebook for your own comfort (and reduce spreading germs). 

If you still choose to go to your appointment, be reassured that dentists maintain good hygiene practices to prevent the spread of germs, such as those from a cold.

This is not the same for stomach and sickness bugs. These are often highly contagious viruses, and you should avoid attending any healthcare location within 48 hours of sickness.

Cold sores are also a highly contagious condition. Cold sores are caused by the herpes virus, and can spread quickly and easily. Infection with herpes virus can cause children and people with reduced immune systems to become very unwell, so it is important to contain such infections. On top of this, the virus that causes cold sores is easily spread in spray form when having dental treatment, which could potentially affect both you and the person treating you.

The moral of this story? Give your practice a call (preferably the day before) if you are in any doubt.

“Personally I will not turn away a checkup patient suffering from a cold. However patients suffering from sickness bugs and cold sores should phone the practice before their appointment, as it is likely they will need to rearrange appointments.”

Dr Gemma Wheeler – In house dentist

Dental checkups for people with special needs

Going to the dentist can be worrying. This is especially true if you are a new patient, if you are nervous around dentists, or for people with other special needs. 

Nervous patients

If you haven’t met your dentist before, you may be even more worried about what is about to happen.

Well, I know this is easier said than done, but do try not to worry, anxiety in patients is very common and many dental teams can help with this.

At a dental practice, the whole team is used to seeing anxious patients day in, day out. The understand how you might be feeling and why.

The first thing you can do to help this is to let the team know when you book the appointment. Over the phone you can also ask as many questions as you like to prepare yourself for your visit. See the section below for questions that might help you beforehand.

It can also help to visit the dental practice on a day before your appointment, so you know what to expect when you arrive. One of the best ways to reduce anxiety is to have as much information as possible beforehand!

Your dentist will not do anything you don’t want them to. It is possible that at your first visit your dentist may discuss the option of referral to a specialist dentist if you do need treatment. 

In any case please take the time to find a dentist, and once you have found someone you trust, hopefully they can change your mind!

Anxious dental patient

Patients with disabilities

Some dentists may be able to treat people with physical disabilities or other medical conditions in their own practice.

However, if you or someone you know is unable to get treatment at your dentist because of any sort of special need then your dentist can refer you to a more suitable practice.

Community Dental Services

Special care dentistry is often provided by Community Dental Services. In some places, this may be called Public Dental Services.

These dentists focus on patients with severe dental phobia and patients who require specialist care, for example if you need a dentist to visit you because you are housebound. 

These dentists may also provide care in a hospital or mobile clinic.

They have specialised equipment and often have sedation services to help provide care.

It is possible to have checkups at your regular dentist and referrals for treatment.

To access these dentists, you usually require a referral from a healthcare professional – a dentist or otherwise.

You can find out more about how these services work by following these links:

  • England – there are many different pathways depending on your location, with guidance provided for each area separately.
  • Wales – and you can find out where these facilities are on this page.
  • Scotland – and where these are located can be found using this search tool.
  • Northern Ireland.

When to go back to the dentist early

I have explained how a dentist decides when they think they should see you again, and it is all down to risk assessments.

If you’re low risk for dental problems, then your dentist will want to see you less often.

But it’s important to return to your dentist before your checkup, if you do have any problems.

Book in to see a dentist if you experience any pain or changes in your dental health. Having something checked out sooner rather than later will put your mind at ease and prevent the problem worsening over time.

You should go back to your dentist if you get:

  • Gums that bleed when you brush or floss, or are red, tender or swollen 
  • Gums that begin pulling away from your teeth
  • Loose permanent teeth
  • Changes in the way your top and bottom teeth align with each other
  • Unusual sensitivity to hot and cold
  • Persistent bad breath or an unusual taste in your mouth
  • Changes in the way your dentures or partial dentures fit
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Mouth ulcers or sores that don’t heal

Especially if you are not in any pain, you may want to wait or put it off until your checkup, but do try to get these things looked at.

If you have a checkup booked and are experiencing a problem, it may be worth ringing the practice to let them know, they may be able to give you a longer appointment to help the dentist treat you there and then.

Dentist with face mask on

A list of important questions to ask your dentist

I hope I have covered any general questions you have about going for a dental checkup. As I have pointed out, many things are unique to a dental practice or even to the dentist, so you may need to ask some questions to clarify further.

We have all experienced that mind blank though, when somebody asks if you have any questions…so I have put together a helpful list of questions you may want to have with you when you are booking a dental checkup, especially if this is your first time at a new practice.

There is also a list of top tips to make your dental checkup at your new dental practice as stress-free as possible!

Questions to ask your dentist when booking a dental checkup:

  • Where is the nearest parking?
  • How long before the appointment starts should I get there?
  • Confirm whether it is NHS or private treatment.
  • If you have accessibility issues, ask if it is possible for you to get in to the surgery.
  • If English is not your first language, and you think you may not understand fully, asking if there are any staff that speak the same language as you. 
  • If you have any other problems such as pain, ask if it is possible to have a longer appointment to be able to discuss this at one appointment.
  • How long would you need to wait for any follow up appointments e.g. a filling?
  • What is the practice policy for cancellations and no shows?
  • Are any of the dentists specialists in treatments (implants, sedation, oral surgery for example)?
  • How long will the appointment be?

Top tips when going to a new dental practice

  • visit the practice before the appointment day so that you know your way there and how long it will take to get there.
  • find out where the nearest parking or bus stop is if necessary.
  • leave in plenty of time so you do not feel rushed or risk missing your appointment.
  • bring a list of any allergies and medications, which can be handed to reception.
  • if you have had dental x-rays recently (within the last couple of years), try to get a copy of these to take with you.

FAQ

How often do I need to go for a checkup?

How often you go for a checkup depends on what your dentist recommends. It could be 3, 6, 9, 12, 18 or even 24 months!

Do I have to see the hygienist at every checkup?

No, you do not need to see a hygienist at every checkup. But you dentist can give you advice about whether or not you would benefit from seeing the hygienist.

Do I have to have a checkup before seeing the hygienist?

No, you do not need to have a checkup before seeing a hygienist. It is useful to see the dentist first because they can tell you whether there is a clinical need for it or not. But you can see a hygienist without seeing a dentist. This is called direct access if you are not registered with a dentist.

Do I need x-rays at every checkup?

Normally you will not need x-rays (radiographs) at every checkup. How often you have them done depends on certain risk factors. They may be done every 12 or 24 months. Sometimes they may be done every 6 months.

How long does a dentist checkup take?

The whole appointment will take between 10 minutes and half an hour, depending on whether you have seen before, and how healthy your teeth are. Much of this is a discussion phase, and the examination itself (where the dentist will look in your mouth) will not take all of this time.

About Dr. Gemma Wheeler

Gemma qualified from Cardiff University School of Dentistry in 2015. She went on to complete her Foundation Training and a further two years in the Armed Forces, primarily based around Wiltshire. She now works in mixed NHS and Private practice in South Wales.

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