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Can we do better?
A recent study carried out for the Association of Dental Groups (ADG), which represents private dentists, found that patients are going to their GP with concerns over their oral health when they could have gone to their dentist. 87% of 1,000 GPs questioned felt under pressure from the number of dental patients with worries including toothaches or ulcers. So why might this be happening?
Well, there is the obvious answer. Going to the GP is free, whilst going to a dentist costs money! I don`t think we can do anything about this aspect, it`s not within our control. However, we could help with a well publicised emergency service including a fixed-price fee for all emergency appointments. A notice in the waiting room or a page in a welcome pack is all that is required and would help patients know where they are.
Another finding from the poll was that patients quite often went to GPs with worries about ulcers and other soft tissue lesions because they did not see these as the responsibility of dentists. Especially worrying is the aspect of non-regular patients relying on seeking help only when things got sore rather than seeking routine examinations and catching soft tissue lesions at an earlier stage. Dentists are best placed to spot problems - including mouth cancer – because we look in the mouths of patients routinely. Doctors don`t tend to look in the mouths of patients when they go in with a sore leg! We need to educate people about this and a mail-shot to our patient list might help. In fact, November is Mouth Cancer Action Month so right now would be a good opportunity to encourage this.
The surprising thing about this poll is that patients will wait for a number of days in order to get a GP appointment which is only available at an awkward time. This is despite the fact that a lot of dentists now offer appointments outside of working hours in an effort to help existing patients and attract new patients. So the only other aspect of this is the fear people have of visiting us - which is a hang-over from the last century. We can only alter this over time with good treatment and good PR – so let`s get working on it!
Dr John Shapter – QCS Expert Dental Contributor