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A recent study by the Office Of Fair Trading doesn’t share a great deal of positive light on the world of dentistry. It seems that a combination of insufficient information and deliberately misleading information is giving the industry a very bad image, and one which the OFT is keen to address.

The study revealed that many patients feel they are provided with too little information to enable them to be able to make informed decisions about which dentist to sign up with and register with, and which treatments they should receive. This lack of information, or perhaps more accurately, lack of transparent information, is resulting in many patients simply not registering with a dentist at all. Clearly this is not an appropriate strategy, and not in the best interests of either the patients or dentistry.

But worryingly it also seems that around half a million patients every year are provided with inaccurate information regarding whether they are able to get certain treatments on the NHS. The result of this is that a significant number of people are ending up going private for the treatments they feel they need, ending up paying significantly more than they would have done on the NHS.

The OFT report goes on to make mention of the fact that the complaints process for patients is often overly complex, and there are unfortunately examples where dental surgeries are pressure selling dental payment plans which may be overpriced, or overly comprehensive.

Clearly providing inaccurate information to patients, either about the kind of dental cover they need, or whether certain treatments are available on the NHS or not, is not something which we can encourage.

Although fortunately we would hope that it is a minority of dental surgeries which are pursuing these approaches, ultimately the entire dental industry becomes besmirched by such negative impressions. It is therefore in all our interests, as well as also in the interests of our patients, to make sure that the information they are provided with is accurate and complete.

Today there are a number of ways in which patients can find the information they need without actually going to a dental surgery. One of the easiest things for people to do these days when looking for an NHS dentist in their local area is to simply enter their postcode into the NHS Choices website, or even simply text ‘dentist’ to 64746. Of course a lot of information is also available through the NHS Direct telephone line on 0845 4647.

This is information which perhaps needs to be more widely available so that members of the public looking for dental treatment information can easily find the information they need. Ultimately when patients approach a surgery it’s important to make sure the information they receive is accurate and complete.

No doubt we will see recommendations and action following the Office Of Fair Trading’s study, and whilst those surgeries already committed to providing accurate and complete information will find themselves untouched by the OFT’s actions, it will be interesting to see what actions are taken in order to uncover and deal with those surgeries which have been deliberately misleading the public.

John Fingleton, the Chief Executive of the OFT, stated that he expects to see ‘robust action’ being taken against potential misconduct by dentists. As yet there has been very little in the way of any formal response to these criticisms from the dental industry, and perhaps this in itself doesn’t help our cause in making sure patients receive a positive image.

It’s important to remember that dentistry is as much about creating positive relationships with patients, and fostering trust, as it is about actual dental treatments.

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