There have been more than 270 complaints against dental practitioners in Singapore in the last four years, said the Singapore Dental Association.
The range of complaints were also very different, including long waiting times and appointment mix-ups, to inappropriate fees and poor treatment outcome. However, the bulk of them were over poor communication between patients and dentists, resulting in unmet expectations from the treatment.
Talking about the issue, Dr Lim Lii, president of Singapore Dental Association, said, “The complaints were mainly due to misunderstanding on both the part of the patient and dentist about the treatment rendered.”
“Due to a lack of proper communication, patients may not fully comprehend the advice like the limitations of treatment procedures given by the dentists”, he said.
“Similarly, the patients may not have adequately expressed their expectations to the dentists, resulting in apparent unmet expectations from the treatment,” Dr Lim added.
Experts point out that the discontent among patients can stem from a general lack of awareness among Singaporeans on the differences in services provided by a dentist and an orthodontist.
Notably, the job of a dentist typically includes diagnosis, prevention and treatment of oral diseases. An orthodontist, on the other hand, is a specialist who is trained to deal with more complex cases such as braces treatment and fixing malpositioned teeth and jaws.
The qualifications of both orthodontist and dentist are also different. A certified orthodontist has to complete a three-year postgraduate degree and have at least two years of work experience followed by a certifying exam. A general dentist in Singapore undergoes four years of undergraduate university education.
Dr Elaine Tan, a consultant in clinical-orthodontics at the National Dental Centre Singapore, said, “People have been thinking that all dentists are the same and that their job is just to extract or fill teeth. But in dentistry, we have different specialties.”
He added, “For example, an orthodontist does braces, but after the treatment is completed, the patient can go back to a general dentist for their maintenance or routine six-month scaling, polishing, fillings and even to maintain their retainers as well.”
Singapore Dental Council stressed that all dentists are expected to practise within their competence and refer patients appropriately as indicated in the Singapore Dental Council Ethical Code and Guidelines.
Dr Lim said, “The public can seek advice from any dentist of their choice. Dentists are trained to provide a wide range of treatment for their patients. Ultimately, it's the patient who decides who they want to go to for treatment based on factors like fees, convenience and the personal relationship they have with the dental practitioner.”