/ Health

Clean Up Dental Costs: a view from the regulators

Male dentist smiling

As we launch a campaign to Clean Up Dental Costs, the General Dental Council tells us about the dentistry standards it enforces across the industry and how it takes action. Find out more in this guest post from the GDC:

The General Dental Council (GDC) welcomes Which?’s survey findings that overall, patients have a high level of trust in the advice their dentist provides. There were examples of good treatment in the Which? mystery shopping exercise. However we are concerned that the research findings also highlight areas of poor practice in dentistry.

Which?’s research provides valuable insight into patients’ experience of the treatment options offered when visiting their dentist. These reflect the GDC’s own research findings about the need for effective communication with patients.

Therefore, the GDC’s main guidance document ‘Standards for the Dental Team’, published in 2013, sets out the standards of conduct and performance expected of registered dental professionals. It says that dentists must discuss treatment options, give clear explanations about NHS and private treatment, display price lists and provide treatment plans.

These standards are available on a microsite that can be viewed on a mobile phone or tablet so that dentists can look at them easily.

Good dentistry means clear communication with patients

We are taking further action to stress how important it is that dentists communicate clearly with patients about their treatment options.

We will:

  • Delve in to the reasons why dental professionals may not always follow the standards expected of them.
  • Conduct research into what patients want to know about treatment options.
  • Create a shared expectation between patients and dentists of what that information is and how it can best be delivered.
  • Require dentists to undergo continuing professional development. This keeps their knowledge up to date and ensures they practise in accordance with the GDC standards.
  • Analyse the information that the GDC receives from patients about problems with their dentists, in order to understand areas of poor practice and how they can be prevented.
  • Work with schools of dentistry to underline how important it is to include communication in training and education.
  • Obviously if we find that dentists are not complying with our Standards, and misleading patients, then we can – and do – take action. This is highlighted by the fact that the GDC has seen a steady increase in cases involving pricing since the new standards came into effect. (The number of cases went from 33 in 2012 to 114 in 2014.)

For patients we recommend our ‘Smile’ leaflet which provides practical guidance about what you can expect when you visit the dentist. It also lists the organisations that you can contact if you have concerns.

Do you understand the pricing and treatment plans available at your dental practices? How do you ensure you’re paying the correct amount for your treatment?

Which? Conversation provides guest spots to external contributors. This is by Janet Collins, the Head of Standards at the General Dental Council. All opinions expressed here are Janet’s own, not necessarily those of Which?


“The GDC is also taking further action…..” This all smacks of the usual excuse in vogue “lessons will be learnt”. The GDC, dentists, NHS and patients have been around for an awfully long time. Why only now is action being taken? I suspect the reason many dentists who are less than transparent do so for financial reasons – in case we feel we are not getting fair value. Maybe a bit like garage charging? And perhaps the GDC lacks the teeth necessary to control these practises?

For years I used a small dental practice with a single dentist and the receptionist always printed an estimate of charges. Unfortunately he had a serious accident and I am now with a large, modern practice. It’s fine but the only time I am informed about charges is when I’m told ‘There’s £xx to pay’. My credit card needs anaesthetic. 🙂

Gerald says:
21 January 2015

As an OAP myself and someone who is dedicated to getting their rights from the NHS for OAPs I can honestly say that the Dentist my wife and I used has been supperb , he was also actively involved with whistle blowing on his fellow dentists which only incurred the wrath of the NHS as he has now been hounded out of practice by trumped up charges of an anonemous person using video cameras
(does this sound familiar?) Non of his clients were consulted before action was taken and all the people I have spoken to did not agree with the NHS’s actions. Bye the way I have been going to this Dentist for over 30 years and always found him faultless.

I have had a single tooth denture fitted,July 1914. When I try to eat with it I have problems. Tend to catch the side of my lip. Have been back to have the denture and tooth on it filed away 3 times. How to I get a second opinion?

The only reference to second opinions on the NHS Choices website refers to planned treatment:

“If you’re unhappy about agreeing to your treatment plan or signing it, you have the right to say no to all or any of the recommended treatments. You also have the right to get a second opinion from another dentist. However, you’ll still have to pay the first dentist you saw a Band 1 (£18.50) fee for your consultation, in addition to the cost of the second consultation and any subsequent treatment.”

Assuming that you just want your denture modified rather than to make a complaint, the obvious solution would be to try another dentist.

nigel36 says:
23 January 2015

Your feature on dental care shows facts and figures which do not apply to Scotland and you have not stated this in the article. It would be helpful for you to advise readers of this fact before they vote on the campaign.

Hi Nigel, thanks very much for your comment. As you point out, dentistry is evolved to each nation in the UK, so there are differences in how dentistry is commissioned, regulated and charged for in each country. This investigation focused on England, although we’ve referenced the national advice lines and ombudsman services in the article’s checklist to make sure it’s useful for people throughout the UK.

Oh, and thanks for feeding this back to us. I’m going to send your comments on to the campaign team to take into account for future campaigns.

Mancman says:
2 February 2015

How can you display the price of something when neither you nor the dentist know what that price will be until they’ve examined you?!
It’s not like buying milk from the supermarket!