Private dentists face a comprehensive investigation into their £1bn-a-year industry after complaints of overpricing for treatment and a lack of competition.
The Office of Fair Trading (OFT) is expected to decide this week on a formal study that could last for up to one year and lead to sweeping changes in the profession. The anticipated decision was prompted by new guidelines that allow some bodies to make "super complaints" against industries that are suspected of bad practice.
The Consumers' Association made a formal complaint to the OFT last year, alleging there were huge disparities between fees charged by private dentists.
Its investigations found that private patients in Yorkshire were typically paying between £24 and £35 for a check-up, scale and polish, which was about double the basic NHS rate. A dentist in Edinburgh was found to charge nearly £90 for the same treatment.
In its arguments to the OFT, the Consumers' Association said: "The charges levied thus do not appear to be governed by the prices charged by other dentists, or by the costs of doing business. This suggests a failure of competition in terms of prices charged for dental treatments".
The group also complained of a lack of competition or transparency in charging. It said that patients had no idea about the costs they would face before they had treatment.
It said there was no proper complaints mechanism in place which left consumers with few options apart from suing for negligence or breach of contract if something went wrong. The OFT had 90 days to consider the complaints before making its decision, which is due later this week.
Private dentistry is a fast-growing sector with some people finding it difficult to get on the list of NHS dentists. At least one in four adults has private dental treatment, says the Consumers' Association.Reuse content