John Chope column

John Chope notes that whilst dental practices may vary they are all linked by a common thread.


Every practice is different


Dental professionals work in a wide range of practice environments and the infinitely variable combination of practice staff, facilities and patient care makes every practice unique. In fact, it could be said that the only completely common thread that draws all dental practices together in the UK is the GDC ethical guidance which determines the standards of conduct and performance applicable to all dental practices in the UK.

So that these standards can apply equally to every dental registrant and to all dentistry wherever it is practised, they are set down as a series of principles and it is expected that patients’ best interests will be key when dental professionals interpret these principles to suit their own individual practice circumstances. It is usually when the patient’s interest is substituted by something else, such as the personal or business interests of the registrant, that this contract of trust between the profession and the public breaks down and another complaint is launched, only to find its way to earth in the GDC fitness-to-practise department letter box.

Most registrants are understandably desperate to avoid a complaint concerning their practice. It is therefore not surprising that the GDC is frequently asked whether a registrant is permitted to do this or that. I recall one example where a hairdresser decided that he wanted to cash in on the tooth-whitening boom and accepting the GDC’s position that this was the practice of dentistry and legally restricted to GDC registrants, he approached a local dentist to provide the service in his shops.

The question to the GDC was: is it acceptable to provide a tooth whitening service to patients at the hairdresser? The answer was: yes, so long as the dentist applied the principles of conduct and practice outlined in the Council’s standards guidance. And that doesn’t mean that just because the treatment is somewhat limited, the professional standards are lower. Therefore, the dentist would need to ensure that the hairdresser’s clients had exactly the same protection and peace of mind in the form of indemnity cover, privacy, confidentiality, informed consent including information about fees, treatment options and side effects, post treatment supervision and emergency or out-or-hours cover (the list goes on) as any other dental patient.

This dentist had the professional insight to interpret and appropriately apply the generic principles of the Council’s standards guidance to his rather different sort of practice.

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