Understanding the NHS vs private market

Understanding the NHS vs private market

Most of you will move from your FD training post into either a hospital role or an associate role at an NHS/mixed dental practice. This provides an opportunity to consolidate all the knowledge and skills gained in dental school and to learn from new professionals who have been in the industry for some time. Following this position, you will likely have the chance to either progress within the same environment or to move into a new area.

For those who chose work in practice after their FD year, most will be exposed to the private dental services that are offered to patients. As you gain experience, build your confidence and enhance your capabilities through additional training, you may even be able to get involved with these treatments yourself. This often provides variety to your day-to-day work and will enable you to diversify your skills further.

It is important to understand the differences between the NHS and private dentistry models. This will not only help manage your expectations as you progress, but it will also help you to make the most of each role you take on and opportunity you’re offered.


In an NHS dental practice, the NHS contract is usually the bread and butter of the business. This makes hitting UDA targets a top concern, so principals will be constantly striving to fulfil their contract. NHS contract performance can affect many aspects of the business, including its goodwill value and appeal to potential buyers should the principal consider selling in the next few years. Associates will often therefore need to prioritise their NHS obligations over any private dental services they offer or are interested in providing.

Clinics in different regions of the UK will offer different UDA rates – rural areas will always pay more per UDA in order to attract associates. In stark contrast, London and other busy cities tend to offer much lower UDA rates as there is greater competition between associates looking for jobs.

In practice, associates can expect to provide a wide range of essential treatments to their patients. They will usually have access to a limited range of products designed for general dentistry, although there is always the possibility of purchasing something specific yourself if you want to.


Private dentistry is remunerated on a fee per item basis. For associates, the more complex treatments you deliver, the more financially better off you will be. Private dentistry tends to include a significant proportion of cosmetic procedures and other solutions not available through NHS channels such as dental implants.

As such, private practices will commonly make more advanced digital technologies and a wider range of materials available to associates in order to facilitate the best possible treatment results. Appointments are usually longer and there is not the stress of hitting any specific targets. However, patient expectations tend to be higher when they are paying for their entire course of treatment and are accessing what they believe to be the very best dental services there are. Consequently, there may be more pressure on associates to achieve exceptional clinical outcomes in every single case, so experience will be necessary before an associate can focus solely on private care.

The decision is yours

Ultimately, both NHS and private dentistry environments offer pros and cons for associates. Many individuals choose to do a bit of both, especially in the first few years of their career. It provides a good grounding across all areas of the profession and therefore a solid foundation for future career and skill development

Register for Vacancy Updates