Jeremy Laurance: Never mind the rhetoric – how do I find a good dentist?

Medical Life

I am looking for a dentist – a specialist who can help save what remains of my teeth. And at once it becomes clear how empty is the Government's rhetoric about NHS choice. I have no idea how to set about the task.

Today's review of NHS dentistry does not cover this issue. But it should have done. There must be millions of people in my position – middle-aged patients, raised before the era of fluoride and artificial sweeteners, when dentists drilled and filled every blemish in the enamel in the belief that this was the way to save teeth. The dentists were incentivised by a piece-rate payment system, which encouraged intervention and discouraged conservation – leaving teeth riddled with fillings, crowns and root treatments. The result, in my own case, is a mouth full of enough amalgam to set off a bomb detector.

I looked at the website of the General Dental Council to see if it could help. The GDC holds the register of specialist dentists and, if you have a name, you can look them up. All it will tell you when you do so, however, is what qualifications the dentist holds and what specialties he or she offers – endodontics (root canal treatment) or prosthodontics (crowns, bridges and dentures), for example.

It does not rank them or provide a star rating like those helpful restaurant and cinema reviews. It does not allow them to tell you about their experience or what they have to offer. There are no helpful customer reviews, no equivalent of the hotel website Tripadvisor, where guests warn others about the cockroaches in the bathroom or the harridan behind the reception desk.

So what are my options? I could ask a friend, but what can a friend tell you? How vicious or gentle their dentist is, and what their chair-side manner is like. They cannot tell you how good they are at restoring teeth.

I have stuck with NHS dentists, on principle, with only occasional excursions into the private sector when I was desperate. Now, however, I have reached the point where I no longer believe the NHS offers a standard of care sufficient for my (extensive) needs.

I can't ask my charming NHS dentist for a referral because I am in effect saying I do not believe he's up to the job. It's not like a referral from a GP, where the roles of GP and hospital specialist are clearly distinct. When I ask my dentist for a referral I am taking the drill out of my mouth and the bread out of his.

What is the answer? Today's review of NHS dentistry by the Department of Health recommends a switch from "dental activity to oral health" with the restoration of a registration payment to incentivise long term care. For me, it has come too late. I need highly skilled "dental activity" now. I started with the website of the Eastman Dental Hospital, the UK's leading dental institution. I located its top academics and found some had private practices. I have consulted one and await his report. I hope I am doing the right thing – but one detail I already know: it is going to hit me hard in the pocket.

Is there a better way? There has to be. The GDC says it is looking at the problem. It had better not bury it.

Suggested Topics
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Experienced Special Needs Support Worker

    £12 - £14 per hour: Recruitment Genius: We are looking for someone to join a s...

    Recruitment Genius: Content Assistant / Copywriter

    £15310 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting opportunity has arisen for a...

    Recruitment Genius: Sewing Technician

    £15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This market leader in Medical Devices is...

    Recruitment Genius: Operations Manager

    £24000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Situated in the heart of Bradfo...

    Day In a Page

    Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

    Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

    How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
    Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

    Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

    Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
    Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

    Aviation history is littered with grand failures

    But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
    Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

    Fortress Europe?

    Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
    Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

    Never mind what you're wearing

    It's what you're reclining on that matters
    General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

    Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

    The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
    Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

    Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

    Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
    Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

    Marginal Streets project documents voters

    Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
    Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

    The real-life kingdom of Westeros

    Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
    How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

    How to survive a Twitter mauling

    Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
    Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

    At dawn, the young remember the young

    A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

    Follow the money as never before

    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

    Samuel West interview

    The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
    General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence