Living up to patient expectations
Satisfaction levels regarding UK dental care are very high at 97 per cent. Yet to achieve these outstanding figures dental professionals must remain constantly aware of what patients expect and value. One may assume that patients want to be treated by a highly competent and experienced dentist that is well versed in the latest dental techniques, but it appears that it takes significantly more than this to keep patients truly happy. According to research carried out by the General Dental Council (GDC), patient expectations are less related to the technical ability of dentists and more about the entire experience; the level of customer service and the quality of care provided by the dental team.
It seems that as well as the cleanliness and hygiene of the dental practice, patients value a caring dedicated dental team that have the skills and knowledge to communicate effectively and deliver patient centred oral health care. For obvious reasons, patients must feel safe and the dental professional’s attitude and manner during appointments is also important. Patients appreciate those that show empathy and understanding, that take steps to develop a rapport and build a trusting relationship. Patients also want to feel supported and reassured during visits and to build confidence providers should demonstrate the team’s commitment to preventive, minimally invasive dentistry.
It is essential to offer individualised care but also to make patients feel involved and to give them choices. They need clear and accurate information that they can understand before, during and after treatment, with details regarding outcomes and any possible risks, so that they can make informed decisions about their oral health. It has been reported that a full explanation of what is required, and why, can help some patients to overcome their fears.1 Patients should have the opportunity to ask questions about the treatment and discussions should take place to ensure that patients know exactly what to expect and what can realistically be achieved. Certainly being involved in the decision-making process may help to make the experience more positive and more likely to result in the patient opting for a pathway that is in their best interests, rather than perhaps what the patient desires.
Part of providing high quality dental health care is to help patients to understand their own health and take responsibility for it. Government programmes and policies to help people to improve their health with food labelling, the ‘sugar tax’ and the eat well guide amongst others, are aimed at encouraging the public to take steps to prevent ill health and disease rather than curing it. In a similar way, by attending regular dental appointments any potential problems, or risks of disease, can be identified and patients can be supported with individualised advice and education to help them to improve and maintain their oral health.
Until recently, it has been difficult to identify the very early signs of tooth decay and dental erosion. Of course, there are numerous visual/tactile evaluations that can be made of dentine decay, but early demineralisation is not always accurately detected with radiographs, which presents a significant challenge for dental professionals striving to uphold the principles of minimally invasive dentistry.
However, the new CALCIVIS imaging system supports the preventive approach by capturing images of active demineralisation on tooth surfaces at its earliest, most reversible stages. This helps dental professionals to detect the signs of disease early, and monitor disease progression but it also enables them to show patients exactly what is happening on the surfaces of their teeth. The evidence-based CALCIVIS images provide patients with personalised information that helps them to understand their oral health status and emphasises the importance of complying with measures to protect the teeth from further disease progression.
Although some patients may believe that the dental profession is entirely responsible for their oral health, innovation is making them more aware of their part in disease prevention. It is adding value to dental appointments, increasing the quality of care and helping the profession to meet patient expectations.
 Ipos MORI Social Research Institute. Patient and public survey 2017. Research report prepared for the General Dental Council. August 2017. https://www.gdc-uk.org/about/what-we-do/research/patient-and-public-survey [Accessed 15th July 2019]
 Scambler S. et al. Patient-centred care – what it is and how it is practised in the dental surgery? Health Expectations May 2014: 18 2549–2558. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/pdf/10.1111/hex.12223 [Accessed 15th July 2019]
 Önem E. et al. Diagnostic accuracy of proximal enamel subsurface demineralization and its relationship with calcium loss and lesion depth. Dentomaxillofac Radiol. 2012 May; 41(4): 285–293. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3729001/ [Accessed 15th July 2018]