Friday, November 07, 2008

‘Dr’ title for dentists sparks row

A move by dentists to request they be called by the title ‘Dr' so as to fit in with other EU countries has sparked controversy.

Dentists are demanding the right to call themselves by the title 'Dr', giving them the same privileges as their counterparts in other European countries.

But the call has upset medical doctors, who complain that dentists could mislead patients about the extent of their expertise.

The General Dental Council (GDC) says: ‘The GDC does not prohibit the use of the title ‘Doctor' as a courtesy title in the case of dentists. Dentists who choose to use the title must ensure that it is not used in a way which could mislead the public, for example by giving the impression that the dentist is a registered medical practitioner if they are not.'

Recently, a private surgery in Knutsford was ordered to stop calling a dentist ‘doctor' in adverts for facial surgery because the advertising authorities deemed it ‘misleading'.

The private Woodvale Clinic used dentist John W Stowall's honorary title in a magazine advert offering 'a comprehensive range of services to achieve an improved youthful and attractive appearance', including ‘facial fillers and lip enhancements'.

The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) said although Mr Stowall is a specialist in surgical and oral dentistry, the use of Dr was ‘ambiguous' and ‘misleadingly implied' he is qualified to conduct facial surgery.

Dentists insist that more widespread use of the term would not confuse patients and would only bring Britain into line with the rest of Europe, where it is commonplace.

But Dr Jonathan Fielden, chairman of the British Medical Association's consultants committee, called for dentists to be banned from using the term, to protect patient safety.

‘Patients have a right to clarity and to be secure in the knowledge that the person treating them is competent and qualified to do so,' he said.

‘Certain titles can sometimes mislead patients into thinking people are medically qualified when they are not. We think it's important that patients can establish whether or not the person treating them is medically qualified. The title used by the person treating them is thus of crucial importance.'

A spokesperson for the British Dental Association (BDA) said: ‘The length of training for medical and dental students is similar – for three years there is a crossover point between the two groups, i.e. they study a similar curriculum, and dentists do a vocational year which is similar to the medics doing a post-registration year.'

And Peter Ward, chief executive of the British Dental Association (BDA) said: ‘We believe that dentists should be permitted to use the courtesy title ‘Dr' should they wish and provided that it is not done in a way which might mislead patients as to their qualifications.'

‘The GDC has no objection to the title and its use is becoming widespread.'