John Makin explains that dentistry is a balancing act between commercial interests and patient care.

There can be little doubt that modern high-street dentistry is, necessarily, delivered in a commercial, business-like environment.

However, the current Dentists Act, which dates back to 1984, has always recognised both the practice and business of dentistry.

Much has changed in the last 30 or so years, with dental practices now routinely advertising and promoting services in a variety of ways and though various media – something that the GDC’s standards guidance in force in 1984 considered to be ‘discreditable to the profession of dentistry’.

However, the professional duty to put patients’ best interests first remains central to all that we do, and so it is important to recognise the potential for friction between the requirements of successful business and the burden of discharging that professional duty.

Patients before profits

Standard 1.7 of the GDC’s Standards for the dental team states that, ‘You must put patients’ interests before your own or those of any colleague, business or organisation’, and that ‘you must always put your patients’ interests before any financial, personal or other gain.’

The GDC also has guidance on advertising, which sets out what is expected of registrants.

Sales executives in commercial organisations are often specially trained to ‘close the deal’ to secure a sale or contract, but in a professional healthcare setting, where we are required to obtain valid consent, such an approach is clearly inappropriate.

The area of practice where these tensions may be most readily apparent is, arguably, the provision of cosmetic treatment where patients who may be psychologically vulnerable embark upon treatment that is often irreversible and relatively costly.

Both the General Medical Council and the Royal College of Surgeons have recently produced guidance, much of which – such as providing cooling off periods – readily translates to dental practice.

The DDU is on hand to advise members on walking this delicate tightrope.


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