A new Code of Practice issued by the Dental Council, and effective since 1 June 2011, obliges Dentists to display their private fees in a place where patients can see them prior to a consultation. Dental Council President, Dr Eamon Croke, says it is hoped the Code will promote transparency and competition and enable consumers to make more informed choices about their dental treatment.

The Code requires fee notices to be accurate, legible, up to date and at least A4 in size. If the Dentist has a website, a fee notice is to be displayed there also. The fee notice must display a single fee only for an examination, diagnosis and treatment plan, hygiene treatment, x-rays and prescriptions. A further ten treatments must be listed with a corresponding fee range, indicating the minimum and maximum costs associated with each. These include fees for root canal treatment, extractions, crowns, restorations and dentures. It is not permitted to only list the minimum fee.

Where treatment is not listed in the Code, Dentists are required to provide a cost estimate at the outset and obtain a patient’s consent and agreement before commencing treatment. If, during the course of treatment, the cost estimate has to be revised, a full explanation must be given at the earliest opportunity. Furthermore, the Code expressly provides that a written treatment plan and estimate of cost must be provided to patients for complex and/or costly procedures.

In a survey conducted by the National Consumer Agency in 2010, it was shown that only 32 per cent of Dentists displayed a price list on their premises. The Professional Behaviour and Dental Ethics Guidelines also oblige dentists to display their prices. A breach of the Code or the Guidelines may lead to Fitness to Practise proceedings pursuant to the Dentists Act 1985.

Discussions on a similar initiative for GP’s is under active consideration by the Irish Medical Organisation. The Code is available to view on the Dental Council website together with a sample fee notice at www.dentalcouncil.ie.