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24 February 2015

Negligent dental care

Private dentistry is not accessible to everybody. For some, relying on the NHS is key to maintaining their dental health.

When visiting any health professional, we expect to receive the right treatment, appropriate for our individual needs. Unfortunately for some, this is not always the standard of care that is received.

Writer and journalist, Antonia Hoyle, wrote of her own dental negligence experience, in which, despite regular check-ups with her NHS dentist, she later found out she had severe gum disease.

After receiving a second opinion from a private dentist, she learnt her previous dentist had been ‘neglectful’.

Currently, dental treatments offered at NHS prices are categorised into one of three bands:

  • Band 1: Priced at £18.50, this band includes general examinations, scale, polish and advice for good dental health practices that you can do for yourself at home.
  • Band 2: For £50.50, patients receive the treatments covered in Band 1 as well as root canal work or tooth extractions.
  • Band 3: At £219, this band includes procedures from the previous two bands with the addition of crown, bridge and denture fittings.

However, although two treatments in the same band cost the same amount of money, they may take different amounts of time to carry out. Root canals and teeth extraction are both priced at £50.50, but it takes considerably less time to remove a tooth than it does to perform a root canal procedure.

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Instead of offering the correct and most appropriate procedure for each individual patient, sometimes a dentist may opt for the cheapest and easiest resolution, often at the detriment of the patient’s dental health.

Ian Lisle experienced this first hand, when eleven of his teeth were taken out by his dentist. A root canal procedure could have easily saved them.

‘It would have taken [my dentist] much longer to carry out root canal treatment,’ he confirms. ‘[But] extracting my teeth could be done far more quickly.’

After being awarded £42,000 in an out of court settlement, Mr Lisle spent the compensation on eight dental implants to fix the damage done by the removal of his teeth.

Such low standards of dentistry care aren’t only limited to the failure of carrying out specific procedures. There are also reports of dentists warding NHS patients away from treatments that could be paid for within the three-band structure, only to instead promote the same treatments under their private services at a much higher price.

‘A dentist… said she could clean my teeth on the NHS,’ Antonia Hoyle writes, ‘but [said] it “wouldn’t be very good”, and encouraged me to pay her £70 to do it privately.’

With a significant difference between the financial regulation of NHS treatments and those sold through private dentistry, there are fears that this could contribute to substandard dentistry care.

All dentists are required to register with the General Dental Council, under which an independent regulator inspects their practices. Offering private services and not respecting the three-tier structure is a breach of the NHS contract, and can also be classed as professional misconduct.

Chair of the British Dental Association, Mick Armstrong, states there needs to be more clarity for patients when it comes to the prices of dental procedures.

Even though a visit to the dentist is rarely an enjoyable experience, patients should still feel as though their best interests are being upheld when it comes to routine dental work and treatment.

Andrew Burford, Dental Negligence Specialist at Longden Walker & Renney, commented that

“There are a lot of excellent dentists out there and most of us visit our own dentist confident that the correct advice and treatment will be provided.  However this is not always the case and unfortunately we do see lots of complaints against dentists for substandard treatment requiring, sometimes, expensive and unpleasant dental repair work. There really should be no difference in the standard of treatment provided as between NHS and privately funded treatment. Where standards drop in either case, the patient will often have a claim against the dentist for the cost of any treatment to put things right on a private basis (whether or not the original treatment was done privately or via the NHS) and for damages for the injury caused.

£15,000 was recovered for a client who suffered major gum disease after five dentists failed to identify and correctly manage it

If you believe you have suffered dental negligence, Longdens Solicitors may be able to help. We provide specialist legal advice and can deal with your claim as soon as possible.

For more information or to discuss your claim, contact Longden Walker and Renney, expert clinical negligence solicitors on 0191 5666 500 or via our enquiry form.