Channel 4s “documentary” program endeavors to go undercover to expose wrong doing in various institutions and highlight the inequalities in systems throughout the UK. As with most of these types of programs it starts with an agenda to show the bad side of a situation so feels no need to balance its presentation. The recent program on NHS dentistry stuck to form but did not really show anything new and actually made a stronger case for blaming the NHS funding system rather than the individual dentists.
It is always going to be easy to find examples of bad dentists doing bad dentistry because, sadly, there are plenty of them out there. Highlighting these individuals does not, however, give any insight into the workings of the rest of the profession. It was not coincidence that root canal fillings were picked on as an example of “gaming”. I made my predictions several years ago about what would happen to NHS root fillings and sadly they have been proved to be correct. If you pay a dentist £47 for the treatment but expect them to dispose of up to £45 worth of instruments each time it cannot come as a huge surprise that they are reluctant to provide this work. The government will not spend more money on this and it is an absolute inevitability that NHS funding for dentistry will be cut over the next 2-3 years. This situation will worsen and blaming dentists for being greedy is not the answer. If a dentist has to fund the setting up of their practice through bank loans often secured against their houses and then has to pay for all of the staffing costs and equipment they are going to need to make a profit or they will go bust. Relying on the “missionary spirit” of dentists to provide work consistently at a loss is wildly optimisitc but it is, in effect, what the government is doing.
As ever the best pathway to receiving good dentistry is to find a dentist who you like and trust and engage in an open and honest conversation about what work is required, what the alternative options (along with any pros and cons) and what the costs will be. Any dentist not prepared to have this conversation (and put it in writing for you) is not worth spending time with.