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What do we really mean by ‘quality care’?

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  Posted by: The Probe      13th April 2020

Author: Mark Allen, General Manager at COLTENE


The phrase ‘quality care’ has become a mantra in dentistry – you’ll find versions of it written on practice websites, at industry shows and included on adverts for tools and equipment. But have you ever stopped to think what it means and whether a patient’s interpretation of quality correlates to a clinician’s and, in the wider sense, a dental practice’s?

Quality is defined as “the standard of something as measured against other things of a similar kind”. As consumers, we desire and expect it. For tangible goods, we don’t want them to fall apart within a week; for services, we want the experience to justify the money that we’ve spent. There is some truth to the idea that you get what you pay for, because we often adjust our expectations if we choose to buy something that costs less. Of course, there is often nothing better than finding a bargain either, which delivers on every level, despite being the inexpensive option.   

This doesn’t apply to dental care, though. Every patient has the right to expect quality care regardless of cost. All clinicians, whether in NHS, private or mixed practice, are delivering more dentistry and treating more people with complex health needs, and yet expectations of quality have never been higher.[i],[ii]

The CQC was established in 2008 to protect people who use its regulated services. Across its jurisdiction – which includes dental practices – it assesses whether a health or social care provider is safe, effective, caring, responsive to people’s needs and well-led.[iii] The CQC’s net is cast wide; in 2019 it released a report into oral health in care homes, based on its in-depth review.[iv] The report – which found that over half the care homes in England had no policy to promote residents’ oral health – formed the basis of recommendations to improve standards UK-wide.

For a dental practice, the devil is often in the detail. Even if you have been identified as offering a good service by the CQC, there are always ways to upgrade your service and do things even better. What changes can be made within a practice to guarantee quality, from both a patient’s and clinician’s point of view?

Offer a holistic approach. A quality practice is a listening practice; communication should start from the minute that a patient steps inside, or calls. The whole team should be informed and up-to-date, so an individual does not feel misled, or that their concerns are being dismissed because they are unimportant and/or there is no pain. Charges should also be transparent, so a patient knows exactly what they are paying for.

A holistic approach considers the mouth as a whole, rather than focusing on a problem that may only involve one or two teeth. A quality dentist will not fix one situation and consider this a ‘solution’. The ultimate aim is to improve and elevate their long-term oral health so that less maintenance appointments are required in the future. Pre-treatment appointments should account for this, offering options and alternatives, and the chance to look at their scans to see what the dentist sees. The benefits of going ahead, as well as the potential problems with going ahead, should be emphasised as much as what the long-term outcome could be if they choose not to.

Using the best materials will support quality care. Excellent materials enhance technique and mean treatment can be delivered efficiently. The length of a treatment plan can be a deal-breaker for compliance; if a patient is told that they require multiple visits, they may decide to not to go ahead. Clinicians across all areas and types of practice will find market-leading materials support successful results the first time around, so that the individual does not need to keep coming back. High-performing materials that offer strength and stability should be favoured for this reason. If we think back to how we define ‘quality’ as consumers, patients do not want crowns that chip easily, or feel uncomfortable in the mouth; they want their investment to last.

Pick the best materials that support long-term oral health. For example, the latest impression materials have pushed back boundaries, allowing teeth to be saved that would previously have been lost. COLTENE has developed its AFFINIS™ impression material for accurate restorations; the impressions are also autoclavable without the loss of their physical properties. In several colours, including the BLACK EDITION, it allows a variety of restorative procedures to be carried out successfully.   

Quality dental treatment is good value and efficient. It should not be compromised by where an individual chooses to have it done. The CQC offers a structure for quality, but patients’ experiences – and opinions of you as a quality practice – are also dependent on details, including things like communication and materials used. Get the smaller picture right and the bigger picture will be a truly high-quality, upgraded service.


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[i] NHS Dental Statistics for England 2018-19, Annual Report. NHS Digital, 28 August 2019. Link: (accessed December 2019).

[ii] Dental Market Review 2019. Christie & Co. Link: (accessed December 2019).

[iii] CQC. The five key questions we ask. Last updated 19 July, 2018. Link:

[iv] Smiling Matters. Oral health care in care homes. CQC, June 2019. Link:

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