Some NHS and private dentists are failing to carry out even basic examinations, according to Which?
The consumer organisation carried out a snapshot undercover investigation of 20 dentists - 10 private and 10 NHS - in which, 11 visits were rated as “poor” or “very poor” overall.
Researchers found examples of dentists rushing examinations, overlooking vital checks and developing inappropriate treatment plans.
Five visits lasted less than 10 minutes, with two dentists spending just five minutes with their new patients, and on five visits, X-rays were not offered.
It should be standard practice to X-ray a new patient’s teeth to check for problems such as tooth decay, unless there are health or other reasons that preclude it, a spokesman for Which? said.
Checks on the soft tissue inside the mouth, important to screen for oral cancers and other medical conditions, were reported on only five of the 20 visits.
Researchers also noted that only three of the 20 dentists examined the face and neck, necessary to check for swollen glands.
One of the worst visits was to a private dentist, which lasted seven minutes and the dentist missed important checks, offered inappropriate treatment and communicated poorly.
Just three of the 20 visits were rated “good” and none “excellent”.
The average length of the NHS visits was 11 minutes, a timescale that experts said was “near impossible” for an adequate initial investigation.
Which? is sharing its findings with the dental industry’s two regulators - the General Dental Council and the Care Quality Commission.
Which? executive director Richard Lloyd said: “In an industry that has not one but two regulators, this level of incompetence is unacceptable. Over half the dentists gave an inadequate service and some missed out the basics, like thoroughly checking a new patient’s history and taking an X-ray of their teeth.
“Patients could be left with permanent dental problems that could have been easily avoided.
“The General Dental Council is currently reviewing the standards dentists must meet - these have to be clearer and they have to be policed to give people confidence in the profession.”
Which? sent four researchers with dental problems to 20 dentists across England in June 2011. Transcripts from secret audio recordings of their visits were assessed by a panel of four experts.