England tops Europe in dental costs survey

Dental treatment in England is the most expensive in Europe, a damning survey has revealed.

According to the Dutch study of nine European countries, the total cost of a standard filling was £117 here compared to £6 in Hungary.

The example, used by researchers, was the price of a filling in a molar of a 12-year-old child. That total included the cost of X-rays, materials, drugs and overheads – as well as the dentist’s time – and the findings have fuelled fears that yet more patients will be driven to seek cheap dental treatment abroad.

While England topped the table, it was closely followed by Italy and Spain. Costs in the other western European countries such as Germany and France were less than half as much.

In all European healthcare systems, the greater the cost of carrying out dental work, the greater the level of government subsidy required to keep the price of dental treatment down for patients.

The cheapest countries for treatment were Poland (€18) and Hungary (€8), the main destinations for ‘dental tourists’ from the UK. Savings of thousands of pounds are promised by agencies that arrange treatment in these countries, even after paying the cost of flights and hotel bills.

The research was conducted by the Institute for Medical Technology Assessment at Erasmus University in Rotterdam in the Netherlands.

Lead author of the report, Siok Swan Tan, said differences in dentists’ earnings were the most important reason for the variation in costs.

She said: ‘Without exception, labour costs were the most important cost driver in all countries and practices. They accounted for 70% of total costs in England. They ranged from 7p per minute in Hungary to £2.16 a minute in England.’

The figure for England included material costs that ‘makes straightforward comparisons difficult,’ she admitted.

Chief Executive of the BDA, Peter Ward, suggests the research is ‘deeply flawed’ as it is based on a sample of four practices out of 10,000.

‘It is a very small sample, it is not representative and it is not comparing like with like,’ said Mr Ward. ‘The dentists selected were community dentists who normally care for patients with special needs who need more staff and take longer to treat. It is impossible to make a sensible comment on a set of flawed data.’

The survey is part of a wider study, commissioned by the European Commission, comparing the cost of a range of medical procedures among the nine countries and is published in the journal Health Economics.

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