GDC reprimands 81-year-old dentist over ‘whistleblowing’ advert

An 81-year-old dentist who pioneered an alternative treatment to orthodontics has been reprimanded by the General Dental Council (GDC) for misconduct.

John Mew upset the governing body by openly arguing that the profession has promoted surgery as the only treatment for jaw misalignment and failing to tell patients of other methods.

The GDC took issue with adverts placed in magazines by Dr Mew criticised orthodontics and stated that the GDC had encouraged the suppression of alternative treatments to major jaw surgery.

Labelled a maverick by some, dentist John Mew has been campaigning for more than 25 years to have orthotropics – his alternative to orthodontics as a method for correcting malocclusion – accepted by the profession.

He reasons that malocclusion is ‘no more than a postural deformity’ that can be corrected as any bad posture can – and maintains that the method he employs is ‘very different and very dependent on co-operation of the patient’.

John, who has practised as a dentist for 40 years in Surrey and Kent, claims that jaw surgery – usually carried out for cosmetic reasons on patients between 13-18 to correct overbite – is of limited benefit and can lead to permanent disfigurement of the face if the jaw bones move back again or slip.

He says research suggests half of operations relapse within 15 years and therefore recommends.

The battle with the GDC began in 2008 when John Mew was issued with a written warning by the Investigating Committee of the GDC about two ‘misleading advertisements’.

His advertisements ‘denigrated orthodontics and falsely alleged that the GDC had accepted the truth of Mr Mew’s report’, the GDC said.

He was warned that he should ensure his advertisements should not contain any statements that were false.

However, Mr Mew continued with further advertisements in Parents News in parts of the south east of England between October 2008 and October 2009.

These advertisements again criticised orthodontics, but also stated that the GDC had deliberately encouraged the suppression of alternative treatments to major jaw surgery.

Mr Mew stated that orthodontists were ignoring these alternatives and he described them as more natural methods available to treat malocclusion.

Beneath these advertisements were further advertisements for Mr Mew’s own practice in orthotropics, which Mr Mew described in the advertisement as ‘natural growth guidance’.

The case report read: ‘The GDC has brought Mr Mew before this Professional Conduct Committee in relation only to the parts of the advertisements relating to the allegation Mr Mew made that the GDC had deliberately encouraged the suppression of alternatives to major jaw surgery.

‘This Committee has found proved all the allegations against Mr Mew, three of which Mr Mew had admitted, and it has found that his conduct was inappropriate, unprofessional and likely to undermine public confidence in the profession.’

‘The GDC has brought Mr Mew before this Professional Conduct Committee in relation only to the parts of the advertisements relating to the allegation Mr Mew made that the GDC had deliberately encouraged the suppression of alternatives to major jaw surgery.

It concluded: ‘This Committee has found proved all the allegations against Mr Mew, three of which Mr Mew had admitted, and it has found that his conduct was inappropriate, unprofessional and likely to undermine public confidence in the profession.’

‘He has fallen far below the acceptable standard of conduct expected of a registered dental practitioner. He deliberately provoked his regulatory body with unfounded and untrue assertions and this is fundamentally unprofessional conduct. Therefore, the Committee has determined that his actions amount to misconduct.’

Orthoptropics uses removable appliances which encourage the bones of the face to grow correctly starting at the age of eight, when the jaw is still flexible.

The treatment usually lasts between 18 and 24 months.

Advocates of this method suggest this cannot be done with traditional, fixed braces.

In March 2009, a news feature on John Mew appeared in Dentistry magazine and quoted him as saying: ‘Sadly, almost every idea I put forward – including the cause of malocclusion, non-extraction, early treatment, expansion, moving the teeth forward, moving the maxilla and mandible forward, correcting oral posture, avoiding fixed appliances, opening the airway, etc – was ridiculed by a very conservative orthodontic establishment with a vehemence that few could now imagine, especially as they have since followed these suggestions almost all the way.’

Following the GDC hearing, a representative for John Mew, said: ‘The primary line of defence was that he was whistleblowing. The public disclosure act allows a certain element of impropriety as long as the main aim is to bring to light issues that were being ignored, as long if all other avenues have been exhausted.

He added: ‘Most people aware of John Mew will know that he has exhausted every possibly avenue over the last 40 years, during which time he has never been given a meeting at the GDC to tell them of his concerns. Although the advert was clearly headed ‘Whistleblowing’ it was argued by the council’s barrister that the legislation is at present only recognised for employed individuals and has never been tested in the high court. So this line of defence was ignored.

The GDC concluded: ‘There are many other ways Mr Mew can promulgate the efficacy of orthotropics, including sensible debate and marketing, but this Committee does not accept that it is appropriate for any dental registrant to use his regulatory body, the GDC, as a means to do this.’

Following the reprimand, Mr Mew commented that the findings ‘are not going to help the people who are having major jaw surgery without every knowing the alternatives or finding them when they are too old’.

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