Nova workboard

a blog from young economists at Nova SBE

British bad teeth may not be a myth

This summer I went to the United Kingdom (UK) and after taking care of the usual traveler’s stuff my next thought was: How much does it cost dental care in the UK?

Let me explain. My two front teeth are remodeled since I was 10. This remodeling is temporary and has already broken four times. When this happened, I ran to the closer dentist office, as I was afraid of being confused with a vampire from the “Twilight Saga”. Turning to serious matters, I was shocked by dentists’ prices in the UK. I had my European Health Insurance Card and was hoping to be served by the National Health System (NHS), which provides most of the treatments from GP’s and hospitals for free…except dental care. UK citizens would still rather attend dentist’s consultations in the NHS and pay, as private clinics are more expensive. Dentist charges are divided into three bands, as shown below:

Table 1. Average Dentist Charges

Sources:  NHS Website and BBC News

Given the exorbitant prices for most of the operations (from band 3), I started questioning two aspects. First, was the access to dental care in the UK reserved for high income people, i.e., was the demand for dental care in the UK sensitive to income? To analyze this, I collected the indicator “Probability of a dental visit in the past 12 months, by income group” for 16 OECD countries in 2009, presented below:

Source: OECD Health Data 2012

As shown, there seem to be no significant difference in access to dental care across income groups in the UK when compared to this particular OECD average. For a better analysis, I computed the difference between the probabilities of access to dental care of “richest” and “poorest”, shown in graph 2. The results confirm that the demand for dental care in the UK in 2009 was not so income sensitive as in the average of OECD, seeming relatively equitable.


My second question derived from the first. Essentially, I could not believe that the quantity demanded of dental care did not suffer as a result of the higher prices. Therefore, I gathered data on the average number of dentist consultations per capita in 2008, 2009 and 2010 in 20 OECD countries and the results were stunning:


Source: OECD Health Data 2012

Basically, the average number of per capita dentist consultations in the UK was always below 1, below the recommended by dentist’s associations and the OECD average!

Two lessons may be taken from this analysis. Firstly, never travel to the UK without doing a dental check-up first – high prices await. Secondly, the demand for dental care in the UK seems not to be income sensitive, although the quantity demanded of dental care demanded is likely to be price sensitive. I believe it’s time for the NHS to provide insurance for dental care, before British’s bad teeth become the new national disease.

By Ana Rita Borges