Advert watchdogs have upheld a decision to stop a dentist calling himself ‘doctor’ in his magazine adverts.
The move will upset many in the profession who are keen to use the title ‘Dr’, giving them the same privileges as their counterparts in other European countries.
In response, many doctors have complained that dentists could mislead patients about the extent of their expertise.
The private Woodvale Clinic in Knutsford in Cheshire, used dentist John W Stowall’s honorary title in a magazine advert offering ‘a comprehensive range of services to achieve an improved youthful and attractive appearance’, including ‘facial fillers and lip enhancements’.
The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) said that although Mr Stowall is a specialist in surgical and oral dentistry, the use of Dr was ‘ambiguous’ and ‘misleadingly implied’ he is qualified to conduct facial surgery.
But Dental Protection responded on behalf of Woodvale Clinic and appealed against the decision.
They believed the use of the title ‘Dr’ in this context was not misleading, because it was clear from the ad that the practitioner was a General Dental Council (GDC) registered specialist in surgical dentistry and oral surgery.
Dental Protection explained that it was common practice in the UK and throughout the world for dentists to use the honorary title ‘Dr’.
They said this had not always been the case, however, but the position had changed over recent years and, with the enlargement of the European Community, dentists from Europe who were allowed to use the title in their home country were now free to work in the UK.
To disallow UK dentists from using the honorary title was, they felt, discriminatory.
They explained that the GDC had no objection to dentists using the title ‘Dr’ and also that the title ‘Dr’ was used by the British Dental Association (BDA) in written correspondence to its members and at all conferences and dentist meetings.
Dental Protection appreciated that if members of the public were misled into believing dentists were medically qualified, this would be against public interest.
They also believed, however, to deny the use of the title when others clearly used it, and its use was widespread around the world, was also against patients interest. They pointed out that a large number of medical practitioners did not have a doctoral MD or PhD qualification.
But the ASA has upheld its decision, saying: ‘We considered… that the title ‘Dr’ before a practitioners name should not be used in ads unless the practitioner held a general medical qualification, a relevant PhD or doctorate (of sufficient length and intensity) or unless the similarities and differences between the practitioner’s qualifications and medical qualifications were explained in detail in the ad.
‘We noted from the list of qualifications included in the ad that the practitioner was not medically qualified and did not hold a relevant PhD or doctorate qualification. We also considered that the advertisement did not explain the differences between the practitioner’s qualifications and medical qualifications. We concluded that the use of ‘Dr’ in this ad could mislead.’
Woodvale Clinic has been advised to seek a view from the CAP Copy Advice team (who advise on advertisement wording) before advertising again.
The General Dental Council (GDC) has said on the issue: ‘The GDC does not prohibit the use of the title ‘Doctor’ as a courtesy title in the case of dentists. Dentists who choose to use the title must ensure that it is not used in a way which could mislead the public, for example by giving the impression that the dentist is a registered medical practitioner if they are not.’