By Sarah Smith, dental negligence lawyer at Hudgell Solicitors
This Sunday marks World Oral Health Day (March 20), an international day to celebrate the benefits of a healthy mouth and to promote worldwide awareness of the issues around oral health, and the importance of oral hygiene for both old and young.
However, as specialists in handling many cases of dental neglect, our team at Hudgell Solicitors knows that whilst it’s good to celebrate healthy teeth and gums, good advice isn’t quite as simple as suggesting you should regularly visit a dentist.
Between October 2014 and October 2015, we handled close to 60 cases relating to sub-standard dentistry care, securing our clients in excess of £540,000 in compensation.
This money reflected the suffering and loss for patients at the hands of dentists they trusted, with cases ranging from dentists simply failing to identify and treat gum disease (often despite patients having many regular check-ups) to poorly fitting crowns and painful abscesses caused by errors in treatment.
One dentist took out seven teeth without the patient’s consent, whilst another patient had to have 10 teeth taken out and dentures fitted because their dentist had failed to treat and manage gum disease over a period of years.
Uninsured dentists could put patients at risk
The key question isn’t really ‘do I go to the dentist enough?’ – it is more a question of ‘how do I know my oral health and teeth are in in good hands?’
Uninsured dentists are an increasing problem in the UK, as it is estimated that hundreds of thousands of patients could be at risk from practitioners defying laws requiring them to have cover should things go wrong.
It has been estimated and reported in the national media that more than a quarter of the 40,000 dentists in the UK qualified abroad and had little or no training in Britain.
We recently represented a patient who was fitted with an ill-fitting bridge, costing her approximately £2,000. During the treatment, she suffered damage to two healthy front teeth.
As a consequence of the negligent treatment, she required root canal treatment and two crowns. The root canal treatment cost was £750+ per tooth, and the crowns required replacement around every 12 years, at a cost of approximately £700+ per crown.
However, upon investigating the claim it was discovered that not only had the dentist failed to maintain proper insurance, but also he had left the country and emigrated to South Africa.
It turned out that there was a string of complaints against this dentist, and the GDC held a Disciplinary Hearing where other allegations were heard, including poor care administered to his patients over his many years of practice.
Cosmetic dentistry is booming, but choose your dentist carefully
Cosmetic dentistry is also an increasingly worrying area, with procedures such as laser whitening and teeth straightening becoming more and more popular.
However, this boom in popularity is not evidence of a completely safe industry, as loose regulations again mean many dentists are carrying out work without having any specific qualifications, or experience of carrying out the procedures.
Last year, a survey conducted on our behalf revealed that despite 75 per cent of people being concerned about a lack of information around cosmetic surgery, close to half said they would still go through with a procedure. The most popular cosmetic work people would be happy to have was dentistry.
This demand has led to many dentists ‘cashing in’ on the boom without relevant experience, as there is no need for formal qualifications to carry out cosmetic work.
One of our clients found this out to her cost, as her veneers not only became discoloured months before her wedding, but twice cracked when she was eating.
It was only then that she discovered her teeth and gums were badly damaged as a result of the poor work of her dentist, and that it would cost her more than £7,000 – and five months of treatment – to put right.
It is therefore important to ask a dentist what experience and qualifications they have, how often they perform the cosmetic procedure in question, the common risks of the procedure, and what process is in place should something go wrong? Only go ahead with the work should you feel confident in all of these areas.
Look out for tell-tale signs of poor dental care
We’ve also represented clients who, despite religiously seeing dentists for years for check-ups and treatment, are still left suffering with gum disease and needing the removal of teeth.
Such problems can often only be discovered after a particular dentist retires or leaves. Many are left with widespread gum disease and the need to have a large number of teeth removed and replaced, at high cost.
Tell-tale signs of poor care could be a sudden need for a change in treatment, or the sudden need to remove a number of teeth.
In such a situation, it is important to ask questions as to why, given a history of treatment and assessments, such a change in a course of treatment has been required. If answers are not forthcoming, it could be worth seeking an independent opinion.
Equally, we have handled many cases where dentists have failed to inform patients of all options, often pushing them down the route of unnecessary, expensive treatment which has caused problems later down the line.
It may sound like scare-mongering, but it isn’t. Our work tells us dentists can’t always be relied upon to ensure your teeth and your oral hygiene are in the best health.
The message is, before you have your check-up at a dentist, do your own check-up on their background, the qualifications, and if you are having cosmetic work, their experience, training and cover.