Advice & Hacks
Do Students Get Free Dental Care?
Find out whether students in the UK are entitled to free dental care, who is eligible for the NHS Low Income Scheme and more...
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Let’s be honest, as important as our oral health is, it’s not always up there at the top of our priorities - especially for students who may be wondering whether or not they get free dental care.
Whether you’re in your first year of university or you’re approaching the final chapter of your studies, dental care may not be something you’ve considered since starting uni.
After all, there’s a lot to adjust to, whether that’s moving to a new town - or country - and meeting new people or getting your head around how lectures and seminars work. For this reason, dental care may have slipped your mind - but it’s something you should probably be clued up on.
In the UK, most people are aware that Brits are entitled to free healthcare under the NHS, but less people know that this doesn’t automatically include dental care.
It’s better to establish sooner rather than later whether you’re eligible for free dental care so you know what to expect if you need to visit a dentist during your time at university - not to mention scheduling those regular check-ups.
Understanding dental care in England
Believe it or not, prior to the 1950s, dentistry, prescriptions and eyeglasses were free on the NHS.
This changed when the controversial decision was made in 1952 to begin charging for these health services, meaning that many now have to pay to receive them.
Charges for dentures were the first to be brought in after the formation the NHS, resulting in the resignation of minister Aneurin Bevan who was crucial in bringing the universal healthcare service into existence in the first place.
That being said, not everybody is required to pay for dental care - there are some exceptions, including those who are under the age of 18 or who are 19 and in full-time education.
Who is entitled to free NHS dental treatment in England and Wales?
You don't have to pay for dental care in England and Wales if:
You’re under 18, or under 19 and in full-time education
You’re pregnant or have had a baby in the last 12 months
You’re being treated in an NHS hospital and your treatment is carried out by the hospital dentist (however you may have to pay for any dentures or bridges)
You’re receiving low income benefits, or you're under 20 and a dependant of someone receiving low income benefits
Do students get free dental care?
Unfortunately, there are no automatic exemptions for students over the age of 19 in England and Wales, meaning you'll likely have to pay for any dental care you receive.
But if your own circumstances mirror any aspect of the eligibility criteria outlined above, you should receive help to cover the costs of dental care.
NHS Low Income Scheme for students
If you’re a student with an income of less than £16,000 per year, you'll be entitled to help with NHS costs as long as any savings, investments or property you may have do not exceed this amount either.
This is known as the NHS Low Income Scheme.
How much help you receive will depend on your personal circumstances; you may receive full help covering the total cost of the service if you're eligible for a HC2 certificate, or you may receive partial help with a HC3 certificate.
With a HC2 certificate, you will be entitled to free dental care, free prescriptions, free eye tests and help with the cost of glasses or contact lenses. You’ll also be entitled to free NHS wigs and fabric supports.
You will be considered eligible for a HC2 certificate based on a comparison between your weekly income and assessed requirements at the time your claim is made.
The HC3 certificate on the other hand will partially help with costs and is for those whose income exceeds their requirements.
To determine whether you qualify for either the HC2 or the HC3 certificate, you’ll need to fill out a HC1 form.
You can either order a form online or download it and print it out yourself.
Can international students apply for the NHS Low Income Scheme?
All students can complete a HC1 form, including international students.
If you're an international student studying on a course of 6 months or more, you will be able to access the following NHS services free of charge:
Free consultation with your GP
Free hospital treatment in Accident and Emergency
Free hospital treatment if your GP recommends it
Free contraceptive services
Free maternity care
These services are covered by the Immigration Health Surcharge you will have paid when applying for your Student Visa (unless you were exempt from paying it, in which case you will still be able to access the services for free).
The Immigration Health Surcharge doesn’t, however, cover services that are subject to charges, including dental care, prescriptions and eye tests. Like British residents, you’ll have to pay for dental care unless you’re exempt for the same reasons outlined in the eligibility criteria above.
Do students get free dental care in Scotland?
Healthcare is slightly differently in Scotland, with anyone under 26 years old automatically entitled to free NHS dental treatment.
Pregnant women/nursing mothers are also automatically entitled to free NHS dental treatment.
If you're a student aged 26 or over, you may still be able to get help to cover the cost of dental treatment in Scotland depending on your income.
As in England, you can submit a HC1 form which you can find at community pharmacies, GP practices, Citizens Advice Scotland offices and Jobcentre Plus offices.
How to register for free dental care as a student
If you are named on a valid HC2 certificate - meaning you do not have to pay for dental care under the NHS - you'll next have to find a dentist accepting NHS patients.
Unfortunately, this isn't as easy as it may sound - as a result of the pandemic, a year's worth of dentistry was lost in the UK, meaning there is a pretty big backlog of patients requiring treatment.
If you're struggling to find a dentist in England taking on NHS patients near you, you can get in touch with NHS England's Customer Contact Centre on 0300 311 2233.
I am not eligible for the NHS Low Income Scheme; how much will I pay for dental care?
How much you will pay for dental treatment depends on the type of service/treatment required.
There are three standard charges for NHS dental treatment in England and Wales.
NHS dental charges
The three bands are as follows:
As of 2023, the current charge is £23.80 in England and £14.70 in Wales.
This band covers:
An examination, diagnosis and care to prevent problems
X-rays, scale and polish and planning for more treatment (if necessary)
As of 2023, the current charge is £65.20 in England and £47.00 in Wales.
This band covers:
All necessary treatment covered by band 1
Treatment such as fillings, root-canal treatments or teeth extractions
As of 2023, the current charge is £282.80 in England and £203.00 in Wales.
This band covers:
All necessary treatment covered by bands 1 and 2
More complicated procedures such as crowns, dentures or bridges
In Scotland, an NHS dental examination (check-up) is free of charge for everyone.
NHS patients who pay for their treatment (i.e. those who are not exempt or do not receive help to cover the costs) will pay 80% of the treatment costs up to a maximum of £384. This means people in Scotland will never pay more than £384 for dental treatment - any further costs are subsidised by the NHS.
Charges vary based on the individual patient and the treatment they require, however it ranges from £5.44 for two small X-rays to £171.04 for complete (upper and lower) dentures.
How much is private dental care?
Costs for private dental care vary depending on the surgery and location, however Which.co.uk has a complete rundown of average costs.
These range from £20 to £120 for a new patient consultation or check-up to £355 to £2,520 for dentures/bridges.
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