Should we be more concerned about the future of our profession?


  Posted by: The Probe      9th May 2019

Student dentist Charlotte Gentry considers the future of the profession

I had a very interesting tutorial a few weeks ago that made me really think about dentistry as a profession and
how much things are changing within dentistry as a whole. The tutorial was on ‘scope of practice’ and the information provided to us was from the GDC. We all know its contents well and how it it outlines what each member of the dental teams’ role is and the different ‘disciplines’ and treatments they can carry out. It resulted in an interesting and, at times, opinionated discussion and I felt reflecting on it here would be a little thought provoking.

From day one, it is drummed into us how crucial teamwork is – we all have very different skills and can all offer something unique to the profession. It is vital for a happy and healthy team, ultimately ensuring the patients receive the best quality care. Utilising every member of the team is most certainly in the patients’ best interests – it often means treatments are provided more efficiently and are provided by those who are most qualified to perform them. Offering your patients referrals to hygienists, therapists and specialists is vital for informed consent. However, the debate started when we began to discuss the fact that many treatments, that separated a dentist from a hygienist or therapist are now shared in both our scope of practices.

There were arguments for and against this. The concerns were that the lines will become so blurred between the two that it will become harder to differentiate a dentist from a therapist. With the introduction of direct access and therapists having the ability to diagnose and treatment plan (within their scope, of course,) could it mean that dentists are losing their identity somewhat?

Furthermore, it was mentioned that as students in our early 20’s, just starting out in our careers, that perhaps this should be something we should be concerned about – we’ve trained for five years, got in a load of debt to become highly skilled professionals and it is vital we stand up for and protect our very unique, highly rewarding profession.
The huge advantage to increasing the scope of practice for a therapist is how it will help to streamline dental care. By allowing therapists to undertake the more ‘simple’ treatments, it allows dentists to be used for their unique skills, such as root canals, crowns and fixed/removable prosthetics. It has been argued that this is a more cost effective way of delivering dental treatment. However, our argument was – how is this ever possible in the NHS? If a dentist is unable to keep doing the simpler and, frankly, more profitable treatments, they’d soon be out of pocket, possibly even going bust performing root canals, crowns and prosthetics, particularly if multiple are needed in one treatment plan in the current NHS contract. I absolutely agree that dentists should be utilised for their unique skills and thus encouraged to become even more highly skilled in these areas. However, when there is not a system in place that would make this feasible, it is quite impossible.

Streamlining services and ensuring patients are getting high quality treatment from the right members of the team is so important and most definitely in the patients’ best interests. However, for it to work, particularly in the NHS, the system needs to change. It is clear that the dental profession is changing – is it what I expected? Honestly, no. Nevertheless, I most definitely value and appreciate the importance of team work, therapists are highly skilled in what they have been trained to do, and when I get into practice, I will utilise my other skilled colleagues as much as I possibly can.

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