What it's like transitioning to private dentistry

The Core > NHS and Going Private > What it's like transitioning to private dentistry

Published: 10/11/2020
By Catherine Rutland, Denplan Clinical Director & Louis Mackenzie, Denplan Head Dental Officer

Louis Mackenzie
Catherine Rutland Profile

Denplan’s Head Dental Officer Louis Mackenzie and Simplyhealth’s Clinical Director Catherine Rutland discuss their personal experience of moving into private dentistry and the advice they now give NHS dentists who are considering entering private practice and introducing payment plans into their practice.

Catherine and Louis – you’re both experienced dentists with a national role to train and mentor other dentists in the UK’s private sector, but you both initially started your careers working within the NHS.  What motivated you initially to make the transition to private dentistry? 



I qualified without a concrete idea of exactly what I wanted to do, so I spent two and a half years in hospital dentistry before deciding to do vocational training and then continue into practice. I always wanted to feel that I was doing my best for my patients and also have financial independence. My move into private practice was very much driven by this and allowed me to achieve these goals. Building great relationships with my patients and the team I worked with was also so important and the extra time I had in private practice I felt made it easier for me to achieve this.




I’ve been a Denplan member since graduating in 1990. The early 90s was a pivotal time in the history of UK dentistry, as an extremely unpopular new NHS contract, followed by a sustained fee ‘clawback’ resulted in the first mass exodus of dentists into the private sector. As a GDP I have worked in the same practice continuously for 30 years. We were a mixed NHS/private practice up until 2006 when we joined a significant number of other colleagues by going completely private before the introduction of the now widely vilified, target driven, UDA-based contract in England and Wales. Both of our partial and total transitions to private dentistry were entirely and brilliantly supported by Denplan, so I was very ‘evangelical’ about the company even before coming to work for them!

There are also often worries around whether patients will come and see you privately. If you provide great service and treat your patients well, my experience is people will respect your decision to move to private...
Catherine Rutland, Clinical Director

You must remember the change well and what you experienced when you moved into private dentistry?



It can feel quite a daunting change, there is a perception around who or what you need to be to carry out private dentistry. Depending on how long you have worked in the NHS system, I have spoken to many practitioners who find this a barrier to change. Personally, I was not that long out of working in hospital and felt this helped my confidence in what I could offer my patients. I wanted to feel I could spend time with my patients to make sure I understood their needs and that they felt comfortable with what treatment was required. Little did I know then how important this extra time for communication would be in these times of heightened concern of litigation.


There are also often worries around whether patients will come and see you privately. If you provide great service and treat your patients well, my experience is people will respect your decision to move to private, especially if they have the option of a capitation plan to spread their costs. I remember well that despite my concerns I felt more secure financially and I definitely achieved greater satisfaction and enjoyment from being a dentist. What’s interesting is that the same barriers and concerns people face now when considering a move into private dentistry are often the same as I felt back then.




Having spoken to literally thousands of Denplan members over the last thirty years, our experiences follow common themes. The primary advantage of being a Denplan dentist is that you have more time to care for your patients. With no ‘treadmill’ and no external targets you have clinical freedom to provide quality patient care based on prevention and the use of MI techniques. With no limitations on treatment or restrictions on equipment, materials and laboratory support there is an increased opportunity to enhance clinical skills, invest in new technologies and enjoy dentistry.


Since 1986, Denplan’s plans have evolved alongside advances in dental treatment and the changing patterns of oral disease. Denplan’s bespoke plans allow the provision of individualised patient care, appropriately timed reviews and treatment based on needs and risks, rather than on targets.


The preventive ethos of Denplan plans promotes patient self-care, the early detection and diagnosis of oral health problems and the use of minimally invasive treatments when necessary. 

With no limitations on treatment or restrictions on equipment, materials and laboratory support there is an increased opportunity to enhance clinical skills, invest in new technologies and enjoy dentistry.
Louis Mackenzie, Head Dental Officer

You speak with dentists every year who are considering and then begin the transition into private dentistry – what’s the main advice you give them as they take this step?



My advice would be to make sure you take advice that you trust and from people who know what they are doing. I know I am biased, but we have been doing this for over 30 years, we have had a little bit of experience of how to do it! Denplan’s vast network of business consultants, along with over 25 practice advisor dentists across the country, are on hand to give guidance and practical advice on clinical, business, financial and regulatory matters. Our new members quickly discover what a fantastic resource and support these teams are to help them introduce Denplan payment plans into the practice and run a successful private or mixed practice.




When deciding to transition to fully or partially private practice, expert support is essential. Denplan’s nationwide specialist team are there to provide advice training and step-by-step guidance based on nearly 35 years of experience in helping thousands of practices across England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland transition to private dentistry. Denplan’s state-of-the-art support allows you to concentrate on clinical dentistry while we help you develop your business strategy. Dentists can also talk to our wide Denplan network of colleagues who have already made the transition to gain further practical advice and hints and tips from their experiences.


Our business development consultants build strong career-long relationships with their dentists. In many ways, they become an extension of the practice team and for most have been the first and constant port of call throughout the COVID-19 crisis. 

What are the biggest changes dentists notice on a day-to-day level when they enter the private sector?



The biggest and most rewarding change people notice is how much more control they gain over their day to day life. A move into private dentistry and introducing payment plans into the practice can help you gain complete clinical freedom and control over the level of service you provide to your patients, and you gain more time to spend with them. You control your work/life balance, working hours and holidays. You decide how you earn your money and how much money you want to make.


Being able to regain full control over their work really does transform the level of satisfaction and enjoyment dentists gain from their career. Morale in UK dentistry has been at its lowest levels in recent years with fear of litigation, perceived over-regulation and time pressures. However, Denplan has always felt somewhat of an oasis, as our members are most often able to enjoy working with more clinical freedom, less admin and less form filling. I would say it's life changing for many dentists and to this day I have never had anyone tell me they regret making the move. 




Having more time makes for more enjoyable, rewarding clinical dentistry (and reduces the risk of treatment complications, errors, complaints and potential litigation). Denplan members also report better teamwork, better staff recruitment and retention, less paperwork, less stress and greater financial control to invest in and grow their dental practices. Compared to their previous ways of working, they report better patient relationships, healthier life/work balance and as evidenced by a wide range of independent studies, are happier and have significantly higher professional morale in mixed or fully private practice. 

You both represent the needs of private dentists at a national level, for example engaging with key stakeholders in the industry, MPs and national bodies. Why is this work so important to Denplan and what does it achieve for your members?



It’s vital that the needs, concerns and interests of the private dental sector is represented at the national level. We believe our members contribute enormously to the nation’s oral health and overall health. So it’s essential that the matters affecting the private sector are heard and addressed by policymakers and regulators. Private dentistry can sometimes be viewed as just about cosmetic dentistry. Although this is a small part of it, much of private dentistry is about family general dental care and improving the oral health of the nation. It is so important that this is remembered. To do this we regularly attend and host stakeholder events to provide the views of our members, we engage with parliamentarians and policymakers, and we speak on national issues affecting our members. While national engagement and representation is always important, the Covid-19 lockdown certainly reemphasised how critical this work is for our members, and we are continuing to ensure the needs of private dentistry remains heard over the coming months and years.




A strong argument could be made that Denplan was the key initiator and major driving force in developing the UK’s private dental industry, which functions symbiotically in support of the wider National Health Service to ensure that Britain’s population has access to world-beating dental care.


For more than three decades Denplan has developed strong links with all of the key stakeholders in UK dentistry, including the BDA, FGDP, BDIA, GDC, Dental manufacturers and distributors, Regulators (CQC, HIW, HIS and RQIA), the Departments of Health, University Dental Schools, dental publishing companies and more recently the newly formed British Academy of Private Dentistry and the College of General Dentistry.


By establishing this wide network of contacts we are able to keep our members informed of the latest developments throughout the profession, to help them optimise patient care, adapt to change, have happy, engaged and well-informed teams and to help support their growth and professional development, as associates or as dental businesses owners.

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