What’s the best career for you, NHS or Private Dentistry?

Congratulations on choosing one of the most transformative and innovative professions. We understand that picking dentistry as the career path that forever defines you could not have been easy. Now that your five gruelling years at dental school are over, not only are you graduating from this enriching experience but also the idealistic mindset created by your idyllic perceptions of this profession. It is now time to evolve from a simple “teeth drawer” to something so much more.

But with many others sharing your enthusiasm and attracted to the same expanding values and work ethics of dentistry as you, there exists a highly competitive job market with endless demands for dentist profiles of varying levels of experience. Lucky for you, with the increasing clamour for dental professionals, there is also a wave of the upcoming retirement of older, less promising dentists, thus further opening up vacancies. 

Dentistry, being an artistic, imaginative yet grounding career choice allows you to grow despite being affronted with adversity and hardship. The skills you gain during your professional career are likely to be highly valued and transferable to many sectors. This gives fresh graduates like yourself the assurance to take your talents where they will be cherished. However, this also clears the room for a consequential discourse on which professional option would benefit you better. 

Public sentiment has long vacillated between the NHS and private sector dentistry as two viable choices for availing high-quality dental services. While the NHS has garnered an upstanding reputation over the years by seducing the dental workforce through its glam (security) and glitz (respectability), the private dental units have recently been growing in power, given the opportune conditions.

As you embark on your career as a dentist in England, choosing between the NHS and private practice can truly be one of the most bewildering conundrums you’ll be faced with. Do you now follow your heart and dip your toes into opening your very own private practice or follow the golden paved road to the UK’s trusted system of healthcare, the NHS? While both have their own sets of upsides and downsides to them, there’s ought to be a winner. Let’s find out which one takes the ultimate dental crown.

Is NHS dentistry the right choice for you?

It was around this season some 70 plus years ago that the detailed document on the initiation and proposed future changes to healthcare was submitted to the government as delivered in the House of Commons. It was during this time that the National Health Service, or simply the NHS came into existence, prioritised as a direct commanding social reform following the Second World War. During that critical era, the founding tenets of NHS dentistry as conceptualised by the pioneers were that services should be comprehensive, universal, and free at the point of delivery. 

The NHS is a government-funded operation run in the UK. The crux of this revolutionary new healthcare system featured a transformative service whereby healthcare was accessed based on clinical need, and not the ability to pay. Currently, the majority of NHS primary care dental practices function under the UDA system, where the patient charges are graded as per “bands of treatment” – Band 1, Band 2, and Band 3. 

Of course, working under an NHS contract can be incredibly daunting for some, owing to the immense amounts of pressure in the service which can also reflect on the treatment time allotted for each patient. An increase in turnaround and long working hours (9 am to 5 pm) does not always contribute to an elevated patient experience.

What is wrong with the NHS?

In recent times, the NHS has come under fire numerous times for its unrealistic and unreasonable expectations. Currently, there are approximately 13,000 dental practices across the UK, with an estimated 40% of these being wholly or almost completely NHS practices. For these offices, any damaging alteration in funding can have irreparable consequences for themselves, their patients, and the wider dental sector. The BDA reports that for many practices operating within the confines of the NHS, financial success seems to be wavering, hence providing little confidence in the future of NHS dentistry.

Additionally, 77% of predominantly NHS dentists plan to leave NHS dentistry within the next five years. One key factor to this epidemic is the rising levels of stress and poor mental health associated with working in this profession. Dentistry has never really been able to secure notoriety for being “pro-mental health”. Instead, the working conditions for most NHS dentists seem conducive to a deteriorating mental health picture, further aggravated by the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic restrictions placed on dental practices. 

What also does not help retain the rapidly-depleting collection of NHS dentists is the general dental contract and its accompanying UDAs. Today, the NHS is bearing the brunt of the ‘clawback’ and stringent UDA regulations imposed on its dentists.

Is private dentistry a better choice?

When being a show pony for the NHS becomes overbearing, the private sector opens its doors for the ultimate revival of the dental economy. The future appears incessantly bright for private dentistry. In fact, according to forecasts reported by market analysts, they predicted a growing private sector in dentistry with a sharp increase of 10% in private general dental services and 15% for private cosmetic work between 2017 and 2020. This compared to a forecast of 1.5% growth in expenditure on NHS dentistry.

Not only are private dental practices teeming with benefits like independent and flexible work hours and strategic planning, but a larger number of patients are also becoming attracted to the benefits of private dentistry vis-a-vis achieving healthier teeth and gums with complete interests as fulfilled by general and cosmetic dentistry. One of the leading benefits procured by the private sector has to do with the lowered stress levels as compared to dentists under the NHS rule who, due to increasing targets and bureaucracy, are cracking under the immense pressure.

There is also a breakdown in communication between the dentists and patients within the NHS, which investigates the GDC. This is fuelled by the fear of being sued by their patients for non-compliance with the GDC regulations. Perhaps it is a culmination of raised expectations and stressful environments in the NHS work network that has been sweeping morale across the existential terrain. However, it can also be argued that, despite the higher risk of patient complaints,  the NHS pension remains very attractive.

So what is the verdict?

The general perception in this heated ‘NHS vs Private’ debate is that the standard of care and expertise in the NHS far surpasses that in private dental practices. However, this may not be a complete truth.

If you’re still on the fence about whether you should or should not renew your contract with the NHS, a brief look at the behaviour of the NHS provides us with the information that the NHS is currently facing a devastating problem. Surveys report that 1.4 million adults tried and failed to access dental care in the last two years, while over 2 million people didn’t try to attend because of their lack of faith in actually securing an appointment. 

With over 130,000 people currently on waiting lists and about 1 in 10 adults with unmet dental needs in over a decade, the NHS is facing a huge crisis. We’re currently in the eye of a storm. This may be a perfect time to start your venture into the private dental practice sector while in the shadow of NHS incompetence and folly.   If you’re currently considering your dental career options at Dental Beauty our goal is to ensure we can support each team member to gain industry leading knowledge, develop key skills and love what they do. That’s why we’re proud to work with a wide range of partners who share in our vision and culture – everyone from dentist’s, hygienists, receptionist’s, nurses and practice managers, who all work together to help each practice thrive. What’s more, we fuel business growth by investing in the most important asset – people. Coupled with our continual investment in marketing and technology we’re all poised to reach new levels of success.  You can be part of our mission and our success. At Dental Beauty Partners we’re continually seeking motivated receptionist’s, nurses, dental professionals and practice managers to join the team.