Statistics suggest that around one in every four of us suffers from some sort of anxiety before heading to the dentist.
In the vast majority of cases, it is a wholly unfounded fear, as most of us will thankfully go through life enjoying excellent dental care from dedicated and talented professionals.
However, as specialists in handling claims for dental negligence across the UK, we at Neil Hudgell Solicitors often see the bad side of dentistry, representing clients who suffer as their teeth are left in poor, sometimes very painful condition.
Thankfully, in many cases, we are able to recover financial damages on their behalf through the dentists’ insurers or indemnity cover.
It compensates patients for their pain and suffering, recovers any loss of earnings if they have needed time off work, and also covers the costs of any remedial treatment needed.
Of course, this is when the dentist involved is fully insured – something many people wrongly believe each practicing dentist in the UK must be.
Experts at the Dental Law Partnership have estimated that as many as 200,000 patients could be at risk from practitioners who are defying laws requiring them to have full insurance.
Last year, the General Dental Council watchdog received 2,990 new complaints, a 90 per cent increase on 2012, and most related to negligent treatment such as poorly fitted fillings and failed implants. It is a big problem.
Unfortunately, with more than a quarter of the 40,000 dentists in the UK qualifying abroad and having little or no training in Britain, many are then found to be uninsured.
As a result, when patients seek compensation, they find it almost impossible. Some dentists simply disappear without a trace once a first claim against them is made.
The General Dental Council insists all dentists with their own practice must have insurance or indemnity cover costing £1,500-£3,000 a year, and new laws introduced in July now make it a criminal offence to practise without cover.
But a recent study showed that of 95 cases involving foreign-trained dentists disciplined for poor treatment, 20 did not attend the hearing and 21 did not have indemnity cover – more than a fifth of cases.
Clearly, the law doesn’t do enough.
It doesn’t require a dentist to inform patients as to whether they have insurance cover, and there is no duty upon a dentist’s insurer to co-operate with a patient in the event of a claim. As a result, we are told there are still hundreds of uninsured dentists practicing.
Given the recent case of Nottingham dentist Desmond D’Mello, who was suspended from practice for potentially putting more than 22,000 patients at risk of blood-borne viruses such as HIV and hepatitis through flouting infection control rules, a worrying picture of dental care in the UK is currently being painted.
As experts in this area, we firmly believe it needs to be closely looked at by the Government, and serious action must be taken to tighten up the entire dentistry industry.
It is unacceptable for such a key part of the health service to be so poorly and loosely governed, leaving thousands of patients at risk of suffering – both physically and financially.