OFT dental investigation must deliver on informationPatients confused and lack information they need

15 September 2011

Dentist waiting room

Which? is calling for improvements in dental patient information, following the announcement that the Office of Fair Trading is to investigate NHS and private dental markets.

While we welcome the investigation, we're saying that the OFT work must deliver for patients, who continue to be left confused by the lack of cost information displayed in surgeries and from dental staff themselves. 

Dental prices

Which? research on private and mixed NHS dentistry in 2010 showed that patients don't shop around and lack a comparable source of information they can trust on private dental pricing. In addition, prices are rarely on show in surgeries – only 7 out of 40 visited by our undercover researchers had costs on display. 

And not enough patients knew about the treatment and cost of dental work in advance of it getting started. Fewer than half of those questioned (46% of those receiving more than a checkup on a private or mixed private and NHS visit) remembered being given a treatment plan and cost estimate.

Only 13% of 1,821 members of the public surveyed, who had private or mixed treatment, recalled getting information about complaining - so we're pleased that the system of redress will be looked at in the OFT study. 

OFT on patient choice

The study will also focus on how dentistry services are sold and whether patients are given appropriate information to help them choose between dental practices. 

Our research found that the majority of private patients would switch to the NHS if they could find a good NHS dentist - we know access has improved in recent years so clearer communication on this is required.

Which? dental super complaint

In 2001, Which? submitted a super complaint on the private dental market, which was accepted. 

Positive changes in its aftermath included the setting up of the Dental Complaints Service for private patients in 2006, but many issues, such as lack of clear pricing, still exist.

Richard Lloyd, executive director of Which?, said: 'The Office of Fair Trading must make sure that this investigation delivers for consumers . Ten years on from a Which? supercomplaint to the OFT, many of the problems we identified remain.'

More on this...

  • We can help you find a local NHS dentist. 
  • Read more about our dentistry campaign work.
  • See the Office of Fair Trading website for more information