Channel News Asia reported that the Singapore Dental Association received nearly 300 complaints against dental practitioners in the last 4 years.
This report highlighted examples of dentists who performed procedures beyond their scope of qualifications. In one case, a oral health therapist from Pristine Dentalworks was fined and suspended for performing dental procedures that fell beyond the scope of her work. In another case, a general dentist from Advanced Dental Surgery was fined and suspended for performing dental treatment on a patient even though he did not possess the appropriate skills or knowledge.
Such cases highlight the overeagerness of dental providers to provide services beyond their scope of qualification and competency. This would not only result in poor treatment outcomes for patients, but also cause patients to incur significant costs for corrective treatment to remedy the initial treatment.
While these two examples highlighted serious complaints, other complaints included long waiting times, appointment mix-ups, inappropriate fees and poor treatment outcome. However, majority of the complaints consisted of poor communication between dentist and patient resulting in treatment outcomes that diverge from the patients' expectations.
Most orthodontists traced this sense of patient dissatisfaction to a lack of awareness on the different services provided by an orthodontist and a dentist. While a dentist is trained in general diagnosis, prevention and treatment of oral diseases, an orthodontist not only receives general dentistry training but also receives specialist training to resolve complex cases such as misaligned teeth and jaws and braces treatment.
In Singapore, a certified orthodontist has to complete a 3 year postgraduate degree and possess at least 2 years of work experience while a dentist undergoes 4 years of undergraduate dentistry training. During the 4 years of undergraduate dentistry training, the dentist does not receive hands on clinical sessions involving orthodontic treatment of patients.
According to Dr Elaine Tan, a consultant at the National Dental Centre, an orthodontist trainee will experience many mistakes in the application of braces during the first two years of training. It is only through close and proper supervision, correction and reinforcement, that the orthodontist trainee becomes experienced in orthodontic treatment. When a general dentist attempts to perform the same kind of orthodontic treatment, they will not possess the same level of competency in examination and diagnosis.
Although the Singapore Dental Council does not apply any restrictions on the range of treatment that a dentist can provide, the Singapore Dental Council emphasises that all dentists are expected to practise within their scope of competence according to the Singapore Dental Council Ethical Code and Guidelines.
The Singapore Dental Council also highlighted that dentists are to perform procedures for which they have the appropriate knowledge, skill or require experience. Additionally, it is illegal for a dentist to claim specialist accreditation if the dentist is not registered as a dental specialist with the Singapore Dental Council.
With a wide variety of experts highlighting the importance of choosing qualified dental practitioners, it is important for patients to choose wisely to experience better treatment outcomes and orthodontic results.