Thursday, 8 July 2010

Teeth and the market economy

I took the girls to the dentist yesterday.  It was an NHS dentist.  It was in a nice modern building; clean and shiny. The dentist, the dental nurse and the receptionist were all charming.  It is less than three months since we moved here and all three of my children are now officially registered dental patients. And I didn't pay anything.

Which is interesting, because it is a truism that Scottish teeth are among the worst in Europe. Even NHS Scotland says so, so it's got to be pretty bad. 

But not for my girls. My girls have a lovely NHS dentist, who gave them splendid ScoobyDoo stickers, and packed us all our way in record time, having confirmed that all is well.

Things are not, however, so white and pearly for B and me.  Do you know how long it's going to take for us to get an NHS dentist here?  Bear in mind that I have never, despite all the stuff you read about NHS dentists being mythical creatures along the lines of Nessie and the uneven-legged haggis, not had an NHS dentist since I took charge of my own teeth aged about 18.  In London there were three, yes, three, NHS dentists, all taking new patients, within a ten minute walk of my front door.

So how long here?

Two years.

Which is pretty rubbish.  But I was kind of expecting it. And I'm lucky. I can afford to take care of my teeth and when I read that a third of Scottish women over 55 have no teeth at all I can make a pretty swift decision to do so.

So, we go private.  Decision made.

How long for a space with a private dentist here?

Three years.


Yup. That's right. There is a three year waiting list to see a private dentist.  Now clearly that's not true if, like poor B a couple of weeks ago, you have a dental emergency.  They'll see you then.  But if, like me, you have healthy teeth and would like to keep them that way with a bi-annual check up and a nice clean with the whizzy toothbrush and the pink gritty toothpaste, you have to wait three years.  And then pay for it.

And I don't get it.  I can see why there's a waiting list for an NHS dentist.  I can't say I've studied the Scottish budget in detail, but I can quite easily believe that they've had to fund free tuition fees somehow and maybe it's the poor old dentists who have taken the cut.  And I realise that funding NHS dentists for children has always been prioritised over adults.  That's ok. I can deal with that.

But private dentists? That I just don't get. I'm not an economist, but surely the whole basis of a capitalist economy founded on the principle of supply and demand is that where there's a shortage of something there is money to be made, and that we are all, private dentists no less, trying to make money. So where are they?  Why aren't there private dentists flocking to the Scottish Borders picking up all those hundreds of people sitting on waiting lists and hoping that their teeth aren't all going to fall out in the meantime? 

And even more odd: how can it be that there is a longer waiting list for a service you have to pay for than one that comes for free?

And if, when you've finished working all that out, you could find me a dentist slightly nearer than the one I'm hanging on to in London that'd be great too...


  1. when my mother took me to the dentist for the first time, aged 3, i had to have 11 fillings. when she took my brother, aged 3, he tried to bite the dentist and kick him in the groin. as a consequence my brother had no fillings. when she took my little sister, aged 3, she had to have 13 fillings. happily our big teeth were sturdier than our milk teeth!

  2. Getting a dentist is a nightmare up here! We have three dental schools at Aberdeen, Dundee and Glasgow universities which works out at more per capita than any other part of the UK - we are verily churning out dentists. They pay lip service to the NHS for about 2 years then either up sticks and move south or go private up here. I suspect many people, like me, balk at their NHS dentist "going private" and dump them (that would be our culturally socialist cutting off one's nose sort of thing). I am surprised you cannot get a private dentist - we have NO problem getting one of those.... tho tis true that Edinburgh/Borders/Dumfries are weaker hotbeds of socialism - I bet they're queuing in Morningside for a private poke in the molars! I wonder if perhaps the headlines crying out for NHS dentists discourage anyone from outside Scotland setting up in private practice since it would appear we are swamped with them?

    Personally I'd force anyone who has been in receipt of free tuition to become a dentist do at least 5 years NHS before being allowed to setup privately or alternatively have a permanent minimum level of NHS work for all dentists - but I'm a commie. Would that work for everyone I wonder? Lawyers could have a minimum Legal Aid requirement... what could we get out of accountants in return for their free education I wonder!

  3. I took my boys to the dentist yesterday too - and have a blog post brewing about it. Just have to say that I love our dentist. Fantastically expensive, but so brilliant and really gentle.

    Thanks for your email btw - I'm reading digesting and will respond later. The things you have to think about with bigger families! Gah!

  4. I have had my head in the sand about this. My dentist is in the process of retiring which means my 6yr old has never been to a dentist. I am a bad, bad mother. And I don't even have ridiculous waiting lists I can blame.

    When I broke my tooth living in Cambridge, I was told to wait six months before I could have it fixed. I actually had to get it done in Belgium instead.

    It's lucky I suppose you can still go to your dentist in London while you're on the waiting list.

  5. I have only one thing to say - Crazy!

    MD xx

    (Am highly phobic about dentists. Your post has made me all queasy just thinking about them.)

  6. I'm your 100th follower! :)

  7. How very odd. We are all with a lovely NHS dentist in London, although I expected to have to go private when I signed up. I was pregnant at the time and they wouldn't actually let me go private. Makes me want to train as a dentist and move to Scotland. There's clearly money to be made.

  8. RM - what on earth had she been feeding you???!! I suspect MD might agree with your brother though...

    Mrs W - Curiouser and curiouser. So where are they all going these dentists? And when will some of them come here?! I don't mind paying, really I don't, it'd be cheaper than the train fare to London.

    I like your idea though...although I guess, she says, thinking logically for a change, that actually the government wouldn't go for it. They'd have to pay all those dentists that currently go private. It's presumably in their interests to reduce the numbers of NHS dentists not to increase them, on the basis that relatively few of us will end up needing frontline NHS care because we didn't go to the dentist and its therefore saving them money in the long run (although if this research that links poor dental health to heart attacks is true, maybe their gamble isn't paying off...)

    Oh, and yeah, not exactly a hotbed of socialism down here... if another person tells me there are fifty eight Dukes and twenty three Viscounts (or something) living within a ten mile radius of here) I may have to dig out my Russian and get singing (altogether now..."Sovetskii Soyuz...."

    Pants with Names - you're welcome... and looking forward to your dental post!

    Mwa - bad, bad mother indeed. Just think how you beat them and starve them. Actually, if you did starve them, they'd be unlikely to get tooth decay, so maybe that's not a bad idea.... And yes, lucky London dentist is so lovely. Actually must call and make an appointment for when we're next down. (she says, knowing she will forget)

    MD - sorry, and very brave of you to click through at all.... Would ask if one was nasty to you as a child (see RM above) but don't want to reawaken scary memories.

    Shelby - Woo hoo! A million (hundred?) thanks and a big welcome!

    Victoria - It is odd, isn't it? I was the same in London, I assumed you'd have to go private because you see so much about it, but I've never had a problem. Which is why I just don't get it up here. Have considered the retraining idea too...! (Especially now Mrs W has told me I can do it (almost) locally!)

  9. I had a really fantastic lovely female dentist in Galashiels that I was going to tell you about. Then I realised that time has passed an awful lot quicker than I had thought it had, and actually that was 13 years ago.

    Might still be there if you are desperate - it was on the street behind the ambulance station.

  10. Thank you! I will definitely investigate...!


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