Whitening2An increasing number of patients are seeking aesthetic dental treatments. So, how best to educate them safely and ethically, questions Tim Molony.

Informed consent is a basic principle in the delivery of ethical and safe dental healthcare and is underpinned by the expectations placed upon you by the profession’s regulators. Principle three of Standards for the Dental Team states that a dental professional must ‘obtain valid consent before starting treatment, explaining all the relevant options and the possible costs’ (General Dental Council, 2013).

Just as importantly, a patient’s best interests should lie at the very heart of what you do and shape what treatment plan you offer – or don’t offer – each and every individual who walks through your surgery door. The GDC expects that ‘all aspects of their health and wellbeing will be considered and they will receive dental care that is appropriate for them’ (General Dental Council, 2013).

Celebrity aspirations

There is little doubt that the expectations of patients have changed tremendously in the last 10 years, fuelled by an increased exposure to celebrity lifestyles, cutting-edge treatments and smile makeovers all accessed via the multitude of digital channels, and supported by a hike in social networking activity.

Even the technology on our smartphones can lead to a desire for an improved smile – let’s face it, who hasn’t taken a selfie and grimaced at the outcome in this world increasingly focused on aesthetics and a desire to look younger for longer? Additionally, as more of us live healthier lives into our 70s and 80s and beyond, the age range of patients seeking cosmetic treatments widens. A recent report revealed that life expectancy among older age groups in England rose to its highest level in 2014 (Public Health England, 2016).

This burgeoning population electing for cosmetic dental treatments has not gone unnoticed by the UK’s dentists, with many attributing this to the rise in popularity of the aforementioned selfie, according to a recent article in The Telegraph. For many, treatments are becoming much more elective and aesthetic than remedial in nature.

As the profession develops and adapts to meet these elevated expectations, it is important to educate patients so they understand what can be achieved and, more importantly, what cannot. Without this education, it is easy to see how the number of dentolegal challenges increases if expectations are not met.

Managing expectations with treatment education, therefore, is essential and this open and honest approach should also be reflected in your practice literature and online. Remember, there are strict rules governing what you can and cannot write on your practice website, so be sure to avoid any overblown promises of changing lives with smile makeovers and cosmetic treatments.

Time to talk

The essence of successful patient education lies in your ability to communicate well. An empathetic, friendly and honest approach will work to mitigate any risks that come with the more complex treatments dentistry has to offer. In talking through treatments and outcomes, it is also important to see the patient as a person and not just a clinical case. In your excitement to improve a smile with your skills, it may be easy to forget there’s a person involved.

It may also be tempting to protect patients from hearing about the risks involved with any complex cosmetic treatments, but be warned – it is just as important to tell the patient what can go wrong as it is to inform them what is being done and why. Anything less than this will lead you into troubled waters. Studies have shown that shared decision-making can have a positive effect on satisfaction and the perceived quality of outcomes. Open dialogue about the possible outcomes, risks and costs are essential – and the securing of this consent needs to be revisited regularly throughout the course of treatment. The patient will want to know:

  • Options, risks and benefits
  • Why a particular treatment is necessary and appropriate for them
  • The likely prognosis – if treatment goes ahead and if it doesn’t
  • Your recommended option
  • Cost
  • Any guarantees and for how long, and any exclusions that may apply.

Working with clinicians

Due to the plethora of information (good and bad) found on the internet, patients often arrive in the surgery having already made their first steps towards treatment education. Sometimes, it might mean unpicking misinformation – an increasingly challenging step in the consent process for many practitioners.

Running parallel with this trend is a growth in the number of patients seeking to book appointments for these treatments online. As far back as 2013, studies found that online appointment booking was fast-becoming a must-have service within the dental practice, revealing that half of all live bookings made were done so outside of surgery hours. Additionally, it is estimated that only 15% of demand for aesthetic treatments are being met. So, how best to harness this gap in the market – and educate the patient with reliable and ethical treatment information, too?

Comparethetreatment.com is a cosmetic treatment booking website that goes beyond a simple form-filling system for patients.

Its aim is to help those 85% of people who know they want cosmetic treatment, but don’t know where to start. Unlike traditional directories that list practices, Comparethetreatment works with dental practices to help grow their private base of patients through education.

Having identified the need for reliable patient education and information, the website is the first UK-based interactive platform that enables the dental profession to share their expertise and engage with thousands of consumers in search of more treatment information.

Comparethetreatment is also the only treatment-led website serving patients at all stages of the treatment journey – from early stage research through to booking a consultation. It offers expert advice, patient experiences and practice reviews. Dentists can upload treatment advice, hints, tips and clinical cases, so patients can identify – and have confidence in – their treatment choice. There is also a panel of medical experts who can advise patients and a professional explanation of all available options. It boasts an open and transparent community; its objective is to give consumers greater confidence in their treatment and practitioner choices.

Ultimately, it is your responsibility to empower your patients and give them the tools to make the right decision about the treatment they desire. Joint decision making and open and honest patient education is, therefore, essential.


General Dental Council (2013) Standards for the Dental Team

Public Health England (2016) Recent Trends in Life Expectancy at Older Ages: Update to 2014

If you are a leading dental professional and you wish to promote your expertise and grow your online reputation through Comparethetreatment, visit www.comparethetreatment.com/join to find out more.