The UK-wide dental defence organisation MDDUS is advising that managing expectations in orthodontic treatment can mitigate the risk of patient complaints. MDDUS has encountered patient complaints as often resulting from their expectations being unrealistic, particularly with short-term orthodontic treatment.
MDDUS dental advisor, Rachael Bell, said: “Many patients have high expectations when it comes to orthodontic treatment. Dentists need to manage these expectations, particularly with short-term cosmetic orthodontics – also known as a six-month smile.
“The recommended timescale for treatment is traditionally between 18 months and two years, so it is perhaps unsurprising that patients want a quick fix if possible.”
In many cases, unsatisfied customers demanded a refund for what they felt was unsatisfactory treatment. Bell said: “Typically, this occurs when patients don’t realise the limitations of the treatment and want instant results when in reality they require conventional orthodontics to bodily move the teeth.
“Sometimes patients underestimate how quickly results can be achieved and they stop treatment midway through care when they realise it won’t be completed for the social event they planned it for.
“Dentists would be wise to make patients aware of the limitations of the treatment as well as any expectations with regards to timescale.
“Patients seldom realise just how different two occlusions can be and can be misled as to what can be achieved with short-term orthodontics by friends who have had considerably simpler occlusions to deal with.”
The risk of a patient complaining can be reduced if they are given accurate and balanced information prior to the commencement of orthodontic treatment.
Bell added: “Patients should be provided with a written treatment plan that includes all associated risks. Within the plan, treatment options including benefits and limitations should be carefully explained. The patient should know the cost, how long the treatment will take and any potential complications in the short and long-term. By taking the time to effectively communicate these points, practitioners will generally encounter fewer problems later on.
“Dentists need to remember that offering the alternatives to short-term orthodontics is an essential part of gaining valid consent. We have encountered complaints where conventional orthodontic options have not been offered, resulting in the unsatisfied patient complaining that they didn’t give valid consent.
“Dentists carrying out orthodontic treatment must be suitably trained and work within their competence and, as always, good note keeping is imperative. Even if practitioners don’t provide conventional orthodontics, they should offer to refer as a viable alternative, as well as the option to do nothing or see a restorative dentist.”