Do you want to know more about public perception, views and experiences of dentistry? Miranda Steeples delves into the latest data published by the General Dental Council.
It’s always of great interest to us at the British Society of Dental Hygiene and Therapy (BSDHT) when new data becomes available, whether it be clinical or about the profession and the public’s perception of dentistry.
The desire to understand the latter has become even more acute in the wake of COVID-19. We all understand that access became more difficult in this period. There were stories in the news about so-called DIY dentistry, and the challenges facing the NHS keep resurfacing in the public arena, reported not quite as we would like.
It was timely indeed, then, for the General Dental Council (GDC) to publish research into the public’s views and experiences of dentistry, including their thoughts on issues such as access to services and confidence in dental care.
From the BSDHT’s point of view, it’s important that the GDC undertook this study because part of the society’s remit is patient protection, and it could be argued that exploring access and barriers to receiving care is part of patient protection.
Additionally, there’s no doubt that it’s useful and interesting for the profession to understand the challenges that patients are facing, and their attitudes towards dentistry and dental care as a whole.
Before we look at the data itself, it is important to consider the context in which the survey was undertaken.
As I mentioned earlier, the information was gathered as we were coming out of the pandemic, when dental services were struggling to return to their normal level, both in the NHS and privately.
It would be natural to ask at this juncture whether greater awareness of direct access might have helped. But in this instance, and even now, it is not guaranteed that it would have made a difference.
It would very much depend on the individual practice. For example, whether they have the team members available and willing to undertake more hours of work to make more appointment times available. Also, whether sufficient treatment rooms or chairs are available.
I think the pandemic taught us that we’d been underutilising technology. Some appointments, for advice or follow up, could be done by telephone or video call. They could also be undertaken by different team members – not every patient needs to be seen by a dentist.
So, the utilisation of the members of the oral healthcare team could improve access in a dental practice if the infrastructure and adequate team training, confidence and competence are in place.
Although the survey asked a number of very valid questions, those that piqued my interest the most involved public confidence in dentistry and how often patients were prepared to visit the dental practice.
For instance, just over two thirds of respondents (67%) were confident that when people do access dental care in the UK, it is of a high quality.
At face value, this is good news, but it really depends on how we are measuring ‘quality’. It appears that the respondents were measuring quality on whether they could access care or not, rather than considering actual care received, which may be unfair and inaccurate.