For the majority of people, choosing a new dentist is all a matter of convenience. We want to get from home to the dentist chair and back again as quickly as possible, making the annual check-up that little less stressful. The question is: are we putting our dental health at risk by opting for proximity over the quality of patient care?
At Hudgell Solicitors, we encounter cases of dental negligence on a daily basis. From 2015 to 2016, the number of dental claims we received rose by 30%, and in the last 12 months alone, we’ve secured around £500,000 in compensation for people who have suffered substandard care at the hands of their dentist. This raises questions about what more can be done to make sure everyone gets the dental care and treatment they expect and deserve.
In honour of National Smile Month, an annual event organised by the Oral Health Foundation which takes place between 13 May and 13 June and aims to promote better oral health and hygiene, we’re looking at some of the things you should think about when registering with a new dentist. Knowing what to look for from a new dental practitioner in terms of accreditation’s and qualifications, as well as things like cleanliness and equipment, can help you steer clear of substandard surgeries — potentially saving you from the pain and misery of inadequate dental work and negligence.
Whether you’ve recently moved house or are unhappy with your current practice, here we list 10 things to consider when choosing a new dentist.
Remember — You’re Not Bound to a Catchment Area
Unlike when registering for a GP, you aren’t bound by catchment area restrictions when signing up to a dentist. You can choose a practice that meets your requirements even if it isn’t in your local area. This is something dental patients often fail to realise, with many assuming that they’re stuck with their nearest surgery or none at all.
Of course, you’ll still want to choose a dentist that’s convenient and easy to access, so you can attend appointments without too much disruption. Remember that you have a choice when choosing a dentist, and that the closest may not be the best. Before settling on a dentist, why not look at those available near your work? This could provide even greater convenience, and may mean the difference between poor or high-quality treatment and care.
Check Dentist Credentials with the General Dental Council
When searching for a new dentist, many patients don’t stop to consider the credentials of individual practitioners, working under the assumption that the profession is closely regulated. As specialists in dental negligence claims, we know that the sector isn’t as well monitored as patients are led to believe — with some dental practices lacking the proper accreditation, and others failing to invest in the appropriate indemnity cover.
In a previous article, our clinical negligence expert, Sam Thompson, touched on the issue of dentists failing to provide indemnity cover to protect patients in cases of negligence and substandard treatment. Sam highlighted that dental patients are often some of the least protected in the UK when things go wrong, with some dentists failing to secure cover even though it’s a requirement of the General Dental Council (GDC) that dentists have the necessary insurance in place before renewing their registration.
Given the lack of concrete regulation in the dental profession, it’s vital that you do your research before registering with a dentist and receiving treatment. The easiest way to check the credentials and cover of a dentist is via the General Dental Council (GDC) website, where you can search for all dental professionals on the current GDC database.
Check for Cleanliness and Professionalism
One of the simplest ways to ascertain a quality dentist from a poor one is to assess the hygiene, cleanliness and general professionalism of their practice. It’s important to choose a dentist you feel comfortable with, so during your first visit to the surgery, consider the following:
- Do the premises appear clean and tidy? Is the equipment sanitised before each use, and is the treatment room clean, well-lit and organised?
- Do the dentists, nurses and hygienists wear gloves and protective gear when administering treatment?
- Are members of the dental team willing to answer your questions and offer further advice and information?
Most dental practices will be happy to give you a short tour of the surgery and introduce members of the dentistry team if you ask — particularly if you’re nervous or anxious about receiving dental treatment. This makes it possible to assess the cleanliness of the practice before committing to treatment, so you can make a better-informed decision on whether it’s the right dentist for you.
Seek Recommendations from Trusted Sources
According to the Oral Health Foundation, one of the best ways to find a dentist you can rely on is to seek recommendations and testimonials from those who have undergone successful treatment with the dentist in question. Whether it’s a family member, friend or colleague, seeking a personal recommendation will make the decision much easier, and give you the confidence and peace of mind that you’re putting your dental health in competent hands.
If you’re moving house and need a new dentist, don’t be afraid to ask your existing practitioner for a recommendation. Dentists will be happy to refer you to other dental professionals they approve of or can vouch for, which can take a lot of legwork out of searching for a new provider.
Other Things to Consider When Choosing a Dentist
If you’re having difficulty finding a dentist that meets your requirements, here’s a checklist of other things you should consider that could make the decision a little easier:
- Are the surgery opening hours convenient for you? Make sure their business hours fit around your schedule, and enquire about the availability of late opening.
- What’s the process for emergency dental work? Does the surgery offer emergency appointments out of normal working hours? If so, how much does this cost and who will you need to contact to access the service?
- What kind of provision do they offer for preventive dentistry? If your oral health is important to you, make sure you choose a dentist with a good approach to preventive dentistry. You should also ask if they have a hygienist on site.
- What kind of help and support do they offer to people who are nervous about the dentist? If you or a member of your family is nervous about visiting the dentist, enquire about the practice’s approach to anxious patients, specifically what they do to ease these worries and concerns.
- If you’re visiting a private clinic, ask how much they charge for basic procedures. Prices may vary depending on the practice, so do your research beforehand to avoid being stung by higher-than-expected fees.
- Does the dentist have experience in treating people with additional needs? If you or a loved one has additional needs, make sure the dentist you choose has experience in treating patients with this type of condition, and that they have the equipment and facilities to carry out the procedure.