A dentist, like a GP, offers primary care and is the first port of call for people when they have issues with their teeth, gums and general oral hygiene.
A dentist performs a number of procedures, some under local and some under general anaesthetic, all of which carry risk. These are procedures such as tooth extractions, root canal treatments, dental implants and increasingly these days cosmetic dentistry work.
The types of problem that may occur include:
- Poor or substandard treatment / surgery resulting in tooth loss or nerve damage
- Failure to diagnose and treat gum disease and tooth decay
- Prescribing and medication errors – dentists, like doctors, prescribe medication for patients, such as antibiotics, and they need to be aware, when prescribing, of other medication that a patient may already be taking and any monitoring that may be necessary
- Delay in onward referral – a dentist, like a doctor, may suspect that a patient has a tumour, or mouth or tongue cancer. It is their role, as it is the GP’s, to assess a patient and to refer them immediately onto a hospital for treatment if necessary
- Infection control
In a case reported by the BBC (November 2014) , a Nottingham dentist, Desmond D’Mello, was investigated for poor hygiene standards; he apparently failed to wash his hands or change equipment between treating patients. In what was the largest recall in NHS history, 4,526 people were tested for blood-borne viruses such as HIV and Hepatitis, the results of which were published in March 2015. Five people treated by this dentist have tested positive for Hepatitis C. Nobody was found to have Hepatitis B or HIV. However, the patients involved in this case have been dealt a compensation blow. The BBC reported in February 2015 that the Dental Defence Union, who assisted the dentist during the NHS England investigation, has decided not to cover any claims and that if they wish to pursue a claim they will need to pursue Mr D’Mello personally.