Odontophobia. Though not an overly familiar word, it’s one phobia suffered by many people in the UK. The fear of dentists is very real, especially for those who tremble at the very mention of bright white lights, drills and the request to “open wide”. Oral hygiene is essential, so it’s recommended that you visit your dentist at least once a year. Brushing and flossing are obvious ways of maintaining a healthy mouth, but a routine trip to a dentist is still advised to keep the niggles at bay.

But is a simple dental check-up that straightforward? Though dentists are respected professionals who demand high salaries, a visit to spruce up that “Hollywood smile” or to remove an aching tooth can horribly wrong.

Dental negligence comes in many forms. Misdiagnosis is a common event. This means a dentist has incorrectly identified what is the cause of the problem and gives the wrong type of treatment. Side-effects sustained from a dental examination or procedure is also a frequent complaint. Simple administrative errors and carelessness are other causes for grievance.

Claims due to dental negligence are far more specific than general “medical negligence” claims. It is your dentists’ responsibility to offer all available options and, as the patient, consent should be given to you by your dentist prior to any treatment received. A classic example is when a whole tooth is extracted – often with expensive anaesthetic – when it was entirely inappropriate.

Dentists are human, and are not infallible all the time. However, what is startling is the rise of dental complaints. Established in 2006 by the General Dental Council, the Dental Complaints Service (DCS) manages and resolves complaints made by patients to dentists. From 2011-2012, the DCS reported a 17% increase in complaints made in the previous year, a figure that comprises a multitude of reasons. Of the 1,800 complaints aimed at the private sector, inconsistencies with crown implants made up 16%. This was closely followed by problems with dentures, which comprised 15%. Fillings and root canal treatment were the third and fourth-most common reasons for complaint.

For the past few years, treatment pain and general practice have been in the top three formal reasons for complaint. The second-most common – inflated cost – cannot be included as negligence. A DCS spokesman said that, whilst about 60% of complaints referred to them were resolved in a week, the key issue was a lack of communication.

In recent years the dental register has taken a pounding, too. In 2004, five dentists were struck off. The figures for the next two years show a shocking trend. In 2005, the figure nearly tripled to 15 struck-off dentists, and continued to increase to 16 in 2006.
Contacting the DCS is advisable only as a last resort. In the event of a complaint, you should go directly to your dentist, who will provide their complaints procedure. Specialist dental negligence lawyers can be employed if a satisfactory result is not reached. NHS dentists will also try to resolve complaints but, in the event that they don’t, you should contact the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman. If all goes well, you’ll be grinning in no time.