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January 23rd 2017

Dental Negligence

Complacency in dentistry: Some of the questions you should be asking

Sam Thompson

Sam Thompson

Chartered Legal Executive, Clinical Negligence

Complacency in dentistry: Some of the questions you should be asking

Visiting the dentist is, for many, a routine annual or biannual appointment.  In my experience it takes about 30 minutes on the way to work.  Most of that time is spent filling out a routine questionnaire whilst waiting for the dentist to call me in.  When requested I go into the consultation room. 

Visiting the dentist is, for many, a routine annual or biannual appointment.  In my experience it takes about 30 minutes on the way to work.  Most of that time is spent filling out a routine questionnaire whilst waiting for the dentist to call me in.  When requested I go into the consultation room. 

The dentist looks at my teeth, tells me everything is fine and recommends I return for another check-up in 6 – 12 months. Time spent with the dentist is about 5 minutes.    I arrange the next appointment as advised and hand over my £20.  I trust the dentist’s findings and advice without question and I make my way to my office.  I forget about the dentist until the next appointment.

Why do I trust the dentist’s findings and advice?

I had never really thought about it until I received instructions to represent patients who alleged they were subject to negligent dental treatment.  I trust the dentist because the dentist is a person putting themselves out to be a qualified professional working out of a professional, modern and up to date surgery.  There are receptionists, dental assistants and pictures of healthy teeth on the wall.  I trust my dentist because when I visit the surgery I am in the dentist’s environment.  The routine has become familiar and I don’t ask questions.

This sort of trust without question can be dangerous.  There are several examples in this blog of patients who will be familiar with the above.  Notably I re-read an article concerning a lady who uneventfully visited her dentist every six months for years but was informed at one routine appointment that she had a progressive dental disease which would cost thousands of pounds to treat. It was shown that the disease should have been detected sooner. Her story can be found here.  I represent a patient who only after undergoing alleged negligent treatment found out that the dentist had been suspended by the General Dental Council (DGC) and had practiced with no insurance, leaving the patient with little if any means of raising the cost of repairs.  The patient was a regular visitor who trusted the dentist’s findings and advice without question.

When you visit your dentist don’t be afraid to ask questions.

Responsible dentists will gladly let you know if their registration is up to date and that their annual Enhanced Continued Professional Development (CPD) requirements have been met.  The above examples of poor dental treatment are equally a result of complacency in dental practice as they are the complacency of patients visiting the dentist.  Becoming a dentist requires five years’ of training at University followed by up to two years of supervised practice.  Dentists must be registered with the GDC and throughout their careers they are required to undertake Enhanced CPD.  Furthermore, from November 2015 dentists must declare to the GDC that they have the necessary indemnity insurance in place to cover them in event something goes wrong.

Becoming a patient simply requires registering at a dental surgery and turning up for appointments. There is no requirement that a patient checks their dentist’s training or insurance status.  Go that one step further and think in more detail about why you trust your dentist and his/her advice.  Ask questions.  Take a moment and have a chat with the dentist about their latest training.  If they have kept up to date with modern dental practice then the chance of failing to detect progressive dental disease will be reduced.  Ask your dentist if they have the necessary insurance in place.  They may point you to a certificate on the wall.  Taking an interest in these things will, in my view, improve complacency in dentistry and improve dental care generally.  These are things we all can, and should do, to reduce the chances of receiving below standard dental care.  Indeed, at my next appointment I will ask about my dentist’s GDC registration and importantly, about their insurance.

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