Q&A With Dr Emma
Dear Dr Emma,
There are so many stories out there about dentists doing substandard work that causes even more problems down the track, how do you know your dentist is doing the right thing when they are tinkering around in your mouth? Also it seems that every dentist charges differently for the same services, how do you know when you are being charged too much?
Thanks, Paul from Kingsley, WA.
Dentistry is definitely one of those industries where the consumer has to put complete trust in the professional. It is impossible for a patient to have the same level of understanding of diagnosis and treatment that their dentist does. That's the expertise you're paying for!
Dentistry is heavily regulated; it is illegal to practice dentistry in Australia without being registered to do so with the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency. A dentist who has been deemed unfit to practice will have their registration revoked. This legislation is in place to protect the public, but it's not the be all and end all. The important thing is to find a dentist who you do trust, and to be as involved in the decision making process as possible.
The best way to go is to ask friends and family for recommendations. You're halfway there if someone you know has already had a good experience. Polls have shown that around 2/3 of the population view dentists as being honest and trustworthy, so there are plenty of good ones out there! If you're unsure about a dentist that you've seen, seek a second opinion. If you're still unsure, seek a third opinion.
Traditionally there has been a "paternal" approach to decision making in dentistry, assuming that dentist knows best and the patient should just go along with it. There is an increasing trend however towards more patient involvement. The informed consent of the patient for treatment is a legal requirement. This means the patient needs to have a reasonable understanding of the procedure, including the benefits, common risks, and costs. If you are unsure about the level of trust you have in your dentist, perhaps seek one out who is willing to involve you more in the treatment planning process.
In defence of my profession, probably not all the stories you hear are about actual dodgy dentists. Things that are out of the dentist's control can go awry from time to time. Sometimes crummy things just happen and it's nobody's fault. A lot of the time when a patient is unhappy with treatment, a lack of good communication on the dentist's part is the main thing at fault, not the treatment itself.
When it comes to fees, there is no set schedule. A dentist is free to charge whatever he/she feels is appropriate for the service provided. To simplify it, you can think of dentistry as being a little like the restaurant industry. You can get food at many places, all of it will stop you from being hungry. However, an amazing meal at a three Michelin star restaurant is going to cost a lot more than a drive-through hamburger. If you want the best quality and an amazing experience, be prepared to fork out. If you're just after basic care, you can probably save a few dollars. Dentistry is a service, not a product. If price is important to you, find out what charges there will be before treatment is done. Then, if you don't value it at that price, you have the option of seeking treatment elsewhere.
I wish you the best of luck in finding a dentist who is the perfect fit for you.