What did you call yourself? - dental case study

... The dentist doesn't notice that his website designers describe him as a specialist in implantology on his new site. It's not long until a fellow dentist reports him to the GDC, claiming he is misleading the public ...

Mr B and his two partners have just made a substantial investment in new premises for their dental practice and decide to 'rebrand' the business. A web company is hired and meets with the practice manager to be briefed on the services to be promoted. Among the details passed on to the company is that Mr B and one of the partners both have extensive training and experience in providing implants for patients.

The site goes live and Mr B gives it only a cursory look. Two months later a letter arrives from the General Dental Council to say that Mr B has been referred to an Investigating Committee in regard to his fitness to practise. An accompanying assessment sheet states that another local dentist has informed the GDC that the new practice website is misleading as it incorporates the strap line: "Specialists in Dental Implantology".

The GDC correspondence states: "There is no specialty in Dental Implantology recognised by the Council" and as such the practice website could "mislead patients and potential patients".

Analysis/Outcome

Mr B contacts MDDUS and discusses the matter with a dental adviser. He expresses his extreme frustration over the matter saying that by training and experience he and his partner clearly are specialists in implantology. The adviser explains that the GDC is very specific on use of the word 'specialist'. Such a title is only permitted for dentists registered on one of 13 GDC specialist lists and there is no list for implantology. The specific policy states that:

"Specialist expertise is indicated by the presence of a dentist’s name on our specialist lists. Dentists who imply that they have specialist expertise in an area for which they are not on our specialist lists, or which is not covered by our specialist lists, are misleading patients."

The dental adviser helps produce a draft representation to the GDC to answer the allegations against Mr B in which it is explained how the strap line was posted without the dentist’s final approval and later corrected within an hour of the mistake being pointed out.

A month later the GDC informs Mr B in writing that the Investigating Committee has considered the matter and does not deem it serious enough for an inquiry before the Professional Conduct Committee but that it will issue a formal warning to the dentist which will be published on the GDC website for a period of six months. The GDC letter states that the onus is on a registrant to ensure that any promotional material referring to professional status or practice is accurate and not misleading to the public in any way.

Key points

  • Dentists must ensure no promotional material refers to them as a 'specialist' unless registered on one of 13 specialist lists maintained by the GDC.
  • Look out for new GDC guidance on ethical advertising to be published early in 2011.

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