Is there a shortage of dentists in the UK?

Dentist shortage UK

Is there a shortage of dentists in the UK?

You have probably seen lots of articles floating around online about whether there is a dentist shortage UK wide. Many contributing factors over the past couple of years mean that the world of dentistry has changed immensely. With the UK population currently sitting at almost 65 million people and around 47,000 dental practitioners, there is no doubt that services are busy across the country. However, knowing that only 41% of adults have seen the dentist within the last 24 months does provide a more accurate image of how far services are being stretched.


Dentists across the UK can either practice privately, for services like ours, or an NHS service. This decision is often influenced by several factors, with private services often favoured due to providing enhanced patient care and performing more specialist treatments often being the main motivating factors. Whilst there has been more of an influx of private dentists in recent years, the government are also trying to enhance the NHS services. Recently, a one-off £50 million investment in NHS dentistry was announced to strengthen the number of services available and entice practitioners to support these services. 

In the article, we will look at if there is a shortage of dentist services in the UK and advise how you can engage with a practitioner that has your best interests at heart. Whether you decide to commit to an NHS service or want to have the flexibility of a private service, we will cover all options.

What are some of the reasons that dentists could be in higher demand?

When considering if there is a shortage of dentists, it is essential to understand if this was because of increased strain on the services. With 2 million adults finding that they must travel more than 40 miles to reach a dentist, it is not surprising that over 50% decide not to bother attending. In the short term, this may not cause any issues. But when considering long-term effects and the lifestyles filled with sugary foods and convenience that many choose to lead, this tends to result in increased demand in the extended term. 

Therefore, some of the reasons that dental services are in higher demand in 2022 are:

  • Patients that did not attend the dentist during the pandemic are seemingly now deciding to make appointments as the country is returning to a new type of normal. This is for a mix of both general visits and also to fix any issues that have arisen after a period of not having any dental work carried out.

  • People are more image-conscious, with the UK cosmetic dental industry currently being world £2.2 billion. This increase brings a higher demand for treatments such as teeth whitening, straightening, veneers, and private-only treatments, including white fillings.

  • The UK has witnessed lots of change regarding sugary treats since the updated sugar tax came into force in 2018. The high levels of sugar within diets could now be resulting in the dentistry work that is needed in patients of all ages.

What factors are affecting the availability of UK dental treatment?

The number of professionals choosing to work within the industry has slightly declined in 2022.  

You may have seen articles online that comment on the declining number of dental graduates in recent months. This figure only sits at 4% of graduates out of every 1000 choosing not to further their studies. This could signify a longer-term issue if training is not completed, with 14% of current NHS dentists coming up to retirement age. We are, however, thrilled to see that the number of private dentists has increased year on year, showing that the appointments are available, just not necessarily with NHS services. 

NHS dentists have also decreased because of recent Government reforms affecting the dental sector. The British Dental Association report that 45% of dentists choose to lessen the NHS work they are carrying out. A further 75% of dental practitioners also report being stressed and unhappy due to having insufficient time to deal with patients properly. With 3000 dentists having moved from NHS to private practices since 2020, the trend for private dental care as the priory form of treatment is increasing.

The cost-of-living crisis is also affecting dentists, with NHS practices unable to continue working with their restrictive budgets. With inflation levels hitting 11% and dental services being subject to pay cuts, it is understandable why private sector working appeals to most professionals.

Source: Latest News Articles NHS Dentists demand lifeline as ‘dental inflation’ soars (

Dr Carmichael, of the quality care commission, has stated that “the problem of retaining dentists to stay in the NHS needs to be tackled by reforming the NHS contract, so dentists can have more flexibility in treating their patients with the care they believe they need, as well as feeling working for the NHS is worthwhile and something they want to do”.

This also represents the stress people are feeling when trying to book appointments and being met with long waits or, worst case, no appointments to be had. In this circumstance, there is not a shortage of UK dentists at all. There is, though, a shortage of NHS services and those who only choose this option will be affected. 

Covid-19 still lingers on as a disruptive factor for UK dental services.

Just like most other industries, the pandemic caused major issues for dental services across the UK, with the effects still being felt in 2022. 

Firstly, the procedures implemented to ensure public safety during the pandemic’s worst days mean that appointments are still running behind even two years later. With only essential treatments chosen to take place when restrictions were imposed, some services such as orthodontic or cosmetic care got pushed to the back of the list. As these appointments are not getting booked in, it does mean that for people who want to have a new treatment, their wait may be longer than hoped for. This doesn’t represent a lack of dentists but instead a disruptive factor from the pandemic. 

Whilst private services did adapt to a safer way of working during the pandemic; services never had to stop. Due to the nature of a more bespoke treatment plan meaning that you can have whatever treatment that you desire when you want it, private patients are not experiencing the same backlog of care. 

Has private dental care been impacted by a shortage of practitioners?

We understand that paying for private care, whilst it has many benefits, is a worrying prospect for some people. At Didsbury Dental Practice, we have taken that feedback into account and have created a service that provides the best form of treatment, no matter what your budget is. The combination of dental insurance and our payment plans makes care accessible. 

The private dental industry is not in a low supply of dentists for the reasons already covered in this article. Whilst the shortages within the NHS have left an estimated 4 million people without treatment; the private sector is not experiencing any issues. 

We understand that choosing a private dentist might seem like a luxury that offers the same service for a higher price tag, but there are many more benefits you may not have considered. These include:

  • An increased number of treatments are available. You have probably experienced paying for a private portion of your treatment and being referred around when you visit an NHS dentist. This is not the case with a private practice, as all services are included under one treatment plan. 
  • Professionals are highly skilled. As you can see from the above statistics, dental professionals are becoming increasingly frustrated by the restrictions that NHS dental care has attached to it. Within private practices, you will find several talented individuals who all specialise in various aspects of dental care.
  • Personalised treatment options. Private practices can also offer a more bespoke set of services that are not subject to the NHS restrictions you may experience. This is even more beneficial when there are shortages of NHS dentists. 

Is there a dentist shortage UK wide?

In summary, there is not a shortage of dentists but instead a lack of NHS options for patients. This is something that we have noticed before, which has shaped our own offering as a private practice which provides care like no other. The reality of NHS practices is that they are subject to government cuts and spending halts which means they are not able to offer the level of service that private companies can.

We want to break the stigma that private practices are only for the minority, and as can be seen in the fact that patients are turning to private practices to deal with emergencies and long waits, many people agree with us.

Dentist shortage UK wide is not something we think needs to be worried about. Instead, it’s about deciding who can offer you the best service. If you want to find out more about how we can help you, please do check out our FAQs.

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