Scotland Dental Care: NHS vs Private

Hopefully my tale of woe can at least help you find your way around the dental system in Scotland, if you happen to be living here with massive teeth issues. I have horrendous teeth. In the last year I had a root canal and crown, and right before I left I got a cleaning, a new mouth guard, and a new filling. I thought surly my teeth will hold up until December when it’s my normal time for a cleaning (and I’m sure some work). But no…they didn’t make it.

I kinda want to blame my former dentist in Chicago….I think he was kind of a crap dentist. But that’s my fault I never dumped him and moved on. Anyway. On Monday my tooth started hurting, I still went to golf and thought maybe it was a one off and it would feel better the next day. I woke up Tuesday in a lot worse pain and really needed to find a dentist. I was getting mixed feedback on if there are any NHS dentists. NHS is National Health Service, the publicly funded healthcare system here. We qualify for NHS because we pay Scotland taxes. But we also still have our American insurance.

I reached out to one of our many outside companies that E’s company set us up with to enquire about what to do with the emergency of my teeth. I knew I could last the rest of Tuesday but needed to get in to someone on Wednesday. They gave me a list of dentists close to me and basically told me to just call each one and see if they were accepting NHS patients. So there are private dentists- that don’t do NHS, there are dentists that only do NHS but might be at capacity for patients, and there are dentists that do both private and NHS, but can also be at capacity for one or the other. Luckily the first one I called was accepting NHS patients. I also made an appointment with a private dentist that was recommended from the AWA group. Both appointments were on Wednesday. I thought I’d see what NHS said and then go to a private dentist and compare.

When I woke up on Wednesday I couldn’t function. I was dizzy, sick to my stomach, and in excruciating pain. I was crying in pain….it was intense. E came home to take me to the dentist. It was NHS, and the dentist was very nice…though seemed very young. He took and X-ray and said I had a pretty severe infection in the roots of my teeth and because of the severity it’s affecting my entire body. His next question was, “Well you could do a root canal or we can just remove it, what do you want to do?” Umm what?! Just remove it?!?! No, no we will not just remove it. How is that an option? Just take out a tooth I use daily. Insanity. So basically, every fear I had about and rumor I’d heard about UK dental care was coming true.big-book-of-british-smiles

I obviously told him removing my tooth wasn’t an option. He went in to remove the infection (drill it out). He had a huge shot that he put into my gums to numb me. Oddly enough, there was no pre-shot topical numbing like in the US. I literally started quivering seeing this massive needle and having no topical numbing. But it actually didn’t hurt too badly and my mouth felt immediately better. He waited for me to become number…I said how I have awful teeth and he confirmed my general thoughts of UK teeth and said, “Oh trust me, I’ve seen lots worse.” I’m sure you have my friend…

So got all drilled out and a temporary filling put on. I had to basically ask to be put on antibiotics as well. I knew I needed the antibiotics because I’ve had this same experience in the last year. Although last time I was on a serious of antibiotics and steroids for about 2 weeks before I was healthy enough and the infection gone so that I could get a root canal. But I did get at least 5 days of antibiotics and I’m hoping I feel better then. Once the numbing meds worse off, I was in pretty bad pain but have my own stash of pain pills from shoulder surgery and multiple tooth problems- THANK GOD.  I cancelled the private appointment for the time being since nothing could be done until I’m through with antibiotics.

So when it comes to a root canal and crown. Here’s the options: 1) You can go NHS route. With that I was told by the dentist, you’re supposed to get the same care as private…but sometimes you don’t because it’s the free healthcare and a dentist can cut corners. But with NHS your crown has to be silver. No options, a silver tooth. The silver tooth and root canal costs about £200-£300. 2) The next option is to go all private (I would go to the dentist recommended by other AWA women). There is a £70 exam/consultation/new patient fee. Then the root canal cost is starting at £375 and the crown starts at £500…I’m not sure if it’s £500 for silver or if that is for a normal, white, crown. So that’s at least £945 ($1,500). Now we can try and submit to insurance but there’s absolutely no guarantee what our US insurance will cover.

Or, 3) the third option relies heavily on my good karma. If I am pain free (infection dead) and can make this temporary filling last 6 ½ weeks….I can get the root canal and crown done when I’m home for Christmas. With my US insurance it will be about $400. That’s what we’re hoping for. Otherwise, it’s almost cheaper for me to fly to Chicago (or at lease NYC) for the crown and root canal and fly back. Which I really don’t want to do…

So NHS is much cheaper than private. But you don’t get to pick what you want; you get the bare bones basic needs filled.  And the dentist might do a crap job. Or you can just have your teeth yanked out. Which might explain why I meet so many people missing teeth…. Fingers crossed I can hold on until December 14th.



  1. Amelie

    The health system is something that really worries me about moving to Scotland. Here in Germany, we have a pretty good health system that pays for almost everything..

    I hope you will feel better soon!

    1. Lauren (Post author)

      At first I was really excited about NHS since there’s nothing like that in the states…but then hearing that I have to get subpar care and not current repair materials….I am far less thrilled!

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