Dentists who concentrate on private work can earn nearly twice as much as their colleagues who have mostly NHS patients, first-time figures on dental earnings in Northern Ireland revealed.
The dental earnings and expenses report also showed average gross earnings of over £300,000 for some senior practitioners.
Financial records of 338 dentists were studied and ‘weighed’ for a population of 824 practitioners.
Half of them had workloads that were more than 75% NHS, giving them an average taxable income of around £65,200.
But those whose NHS work accounted for a quarter or less of their income — usually the most experienced members of the profession — earned an average of £125,000.
SDLP MLA Carmel Hanna said the level of earnings revealed in the NHS data was “not a surprise”.
“Dentists do vote with their feet and go into private practice because it pays more. But it costs a lot to train a dentist so perhaps they should have to give something back by doing more NHS work.
“However, NHS work needs to be made more attractive to dentists, so that it is about more than just ‘drill and fill’.”
But Claudette Christie, director of the British Dental Association in Northern Ireland, said the figures showed a “massive” commitment to NHS work.
“The vast majority of dentists are very highly committed to working in the health service — the figures show that almost 900,000 people in Northern Ireland have seen a health service dentist in the last 15 months.
“And at least two-thirds of all dentists spend the majority of their time on health service. More than half spend at least 75% of their time on health service work. That is a massive commitment.”
The figures also showed “huge variations” in how dentists ran their businesses, she said.
According to the figures, a principal dentist running a practice could earn an average gross income of £311,200, compared to £103,600 for ‘associates’ with less experience.
Once expenses were stripped away, average taxable income for an associate was £66,100 and £121,000 for a principal.
The report can be read here.