Which? investigates dental exams

A Which? investigation has found that some dentists fail to carry out basic examinations, spend limited time with patients and provide inappropriate treatment plans. Only 20 practices were investigated, ten NHS and ten private. Eleven of twenty visits rated poor or very poor.

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They sent researchers with dental problems - from gum disease and dental decay - to visit the practices, both NHS and private. Five of the visits lasted under ten minutes despite the patients being new to the practice. One of the worst visits was with a private dentist. It lasted just seven minutes and the dentist missed important checks, offered inappropriate treatment and communicated poorly. Only three of 20 visits was rated good. None was rated excellent.

Which? says that a ‘thorough examination is the key to accurate diagnosis but, on five visits, necessary x-rays weren’t offered’. Treatment planning was deemed ’a hotch-potch of inappropriate treatment’ and rated poor or very poor on thirteen of the 20 visits. Which also says that the key to avoiding costly future treatment is good preventive advice but, on only three visits, the dentist explained the likely causes of problems and how to avoid them. There were significantly more NHS than private visits rated poor or very poor - four out of 10 private visits were rated poor compared with seven of 10 NHS visits.

Which? also says that it wants to see positive change in this sector and has met with the professional regulator, the General Dental Council (GDC), and the British Dental Association (BDA), to share the results. Solutions being worked on include revalidation – whereby dentists provide regular evidence of working to agreed standards.

Dr Susie Sanderson, chair of the BDA’s executive board, said: ‘These results highlight the importance of developing NHS dentistry to provide adequate time for diagnosis, analysis of risks and discussion with patients to support preventive care and quality outcomes.’

The GDC, which is studying the findings to consider further action, said: ‘We’re extremely concerned by any evidence of poor standards in the delivery of dental care. ’All dentists and dental care professionals are required to observe standards, and the findings of the Which? undercover research raise questions about adherence by some dentists.’

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