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Supporting members of the dental team

08 April, 2021

Dentistry is a highly skilled, technical and sometimes stressful profession, where people’s health is at stake and where safety is paramount.

It is important that everyone involved in the delivery of dental care, from dentists and dental care professionals to receptionists, practice managers and other non-registrant staff, is respected, valued and works effectively as part of a team.

Standards for the dental team

If you contract, employ or manage a dental professional but are not one yourself, we recommend that you familiarise yourself with the Standards for the dental team, which apply to all GDC registrants.

Dental professionals are required by the Standards to consider patients’ individual needs, values and preferences, treat them appropriately, and communicate fairly and clearly. Dental professionals must also treat their colleagues fairly and with respect, and ensure any team they are part of works together to provide appropriate dental care. If they manage a team, they are required to manage and lead effectively.

The purpose of the Standards is to protect patient and public safety and maintain public confidence in the dental team, but they are also key components of a well-functioning dental workplace. We believe dental professionals should expect the same level of professionalism from their non-registrant colleagues, and especially from anyone who is a manager or employer.

Patients, too, will have high expectations of everyone they interact with in a dental setting. Regular feedback from patients will help a dental practice or dental professional to better understand patient expectations. Listening to and acting on their feedback can help improve services, leading to greater patient satisfaction and fewer avoidable complaints.

Even if you think that some of the Standards do not apply to you or other non-registrant roles in the dental team, it is useful to understand the obligations on dental professionals and the type of environment and support they expect an employer or manager to provide.

A shared understanding of the Standards and the principles behind them may help avoid tension where registrants may feel under pressure to act in ways that are, or they believe to be, contrary to the Standards. Pressure can arise from a business need to meet certain contractual or performance targets. It can be difficult for a dental professional to navigate the conditions of their practising environment and the conditions of their GDC registration when the two are, or appear to be, in conflict.

We have recently published a comprehensive study of professionalism in dentistry, which explores the similarities and differences between what the concept means to dental professionals, and to patients and the public.

Discussing care options and promoting private services (sometimes informally referred to as 'up-selling')

Patients expect that their interests will be put before financial gain and business need.

Contractors, employers and managers play an important role in establishing and maintaining an environment that meets these patient expectations and supports dental professionals to comply with the requirements of the Standards for the Dental Team.

Under standard 1.7 of the Standards for the Dental Team, dental professionals are required to put the interests of the patients before the interests of colleagues, a business or organisation. Under the standards, we provide guidance to explain that this means that dental professionals must:

  • Make it clear which treatments can be provided under health service contract or can only be provided on a private basis.
  • Not mislead a patient about the services available to them.
  • Not pressurise a patient into having private treatment.

Investment in staff

We encourage employers and managers to invest appropriately in dental professionals—in their professional development and as members of a workplace.

Workplace issues and employment disputes are sometimes referred to the GDC. Most of these concerns are not taken forward by the GDC as they either do not call into question a dental professional’s fitness to practise, or they fall outside our remit as a regulator. Sometimes, however, a workplace dispute is indicative of patterns of inappropriate conduct that warrant investigation. In these situations, we are duty bound to conduct an investigation. In these cases, there have often been missed opportunities to resolve issues at the local level, resulting in a conflict or dispute escalating unnecessarily. A positive and supportive work environment can be instrumental in preventing such escalation by enabling team members to raise issues at the right time.

We often receive complaints involving disputes between dental professionals that do not necessarily raise broader concerns about a dental professional’s fitness to practise or pose a risk to patient safety. We would encourage the local resolution of such matters.

Mental health and wellbeing

Investing in mental health and wellbeing—including anxiety and stress management—can help to avoid burnout in members of the workforce and maintain good outcomes for patients.

There are a number of sources of support available for dental professionals, and we encourage you to work with your staff to make sure they are aware of the support that is available to them, and how and when to seek it out. The guide Wellbeing Support for the Dental Team covers wellbeing information and resources for all members of the dental team, across the United Kingdom.

MindPublic Health Englandthe Scottish GovernmentPublic Health Wales and nidirect are some of the organisations offering advice on taking care of your own mental health, or that of others.

Public Health England also offers a mental health toolkit for employers, and the NHS People website has many free support resources available.

For those specifically in an employment role, the Confederation of Dental Employers may be able to advise.

Support services for dentists

Support services for dental care professionals

Equality, diversity and inclusion

Under the Standards for the Dental Team, dental professionals are obliged to provide a supportive, inclusive and respectful environment for patients and team members, no matter their individual circumstances.

Dental professionals should expect to be treated without discrimination by their colleagues, and also by patients. It is important, too, to recognise that dental professionals whom you employ or manage may be subject to discriminatory comments or abuse, and that you have a role in supporting them in such a situation. A clear workplace policy on equality, diversity and inclusion—that is visible not just to staff, but patients—can be very useful in making expectations clear, and can be referred to if you think anyone is treating a member of your staff in a way that is unacceptable.