As I start my new job as head of the DDU I am keenly aware that I have some rather big boots to fill.  

My predecessor Rupert Hoppenbrouwers and his deputy Bryan Harvey oversaw the modernisation of the DDU, ensuring we had the capacity to respond to members' needs as the dento-legal climate grew tougher. And more importantly, they retained the DDU's mutual ethos as an organisation of experienced dental professionals who are dedicated to representing the best interests of their colleagues.  

As a membership organisation, the DDU will stand or fall by the service we provide and I'm fortunate to inherit such a strong team of dento-legal advisers, claims handlers and lawyers. Their expertise, empathy and support are much appreciated by DDU members in difficulty and will be similarly indispensable for me and my new deputy Leo Briggs as we lead the DDU in its next chapter.

Four years as a dento-legal adviser and 30 years in general dental practice have taught me that teamwork is an essential ingredient in the success of organisations, large and small. When I joined the DDU, I was struck by how the dento-legal advisers worked together to ensure members received a consistently high level of service.  

Similarly, my practice team often proved to be a valuable asset when it came to keeping patients satisfied. For example, my practice nurse was often well placed to recognise signs of dental anxiety and reassure a patient as they settled in the dental chair.  

As I know from personal experience, the pressure to meet patients' expectations in modern dental practice can feel demanding and stressful, especially with the constant threat of a complaint, GDC investigation or claim if something goes wrong. However, prevention is always better than cure: a well-trained practice team can help dental professionals address concerns at an early stage before they damage patient's confidence or lead to a formal complaint.  

The DDU is a mutual organisation of and for dental professionals and we can be more effective when members make their voices heard.

Similarly, effective communication is an essential skill in winning the trust of patients and pre-empting problems. Initiating an honest and open discussion enables you to address a patient's concerns in your treatment plan and provides a golden opportunity to identify and deal with any mismatch between what the patient expects and what can realistically be achieved.  

Again, timing is important: discussing risks and benefits ahead of treatment is preferable to offering explanations to a disappointed patient afterwards when they are more likely to be dismissed as mere excuses.  

I want to emulate this approach by opening a dialogue with members to ensure that we continue to match your expectations. Ultimately, the DDU is a mutual organisation of and for dental professionals and we can be more effective when members make their voices heard, as many of you did in our recent postcard campaign calling for reform of the GDC's fitness to practise procedure. 

To this end I'm planning to get out and about to meet DDU members at lectures and conferences, so please come and say hello if you are at an event we are attending. You can also contact us via our website, through the journal by emailing or by commenting on the articles directly. I will be delighted to hear from members at any time - not just in their time of need. 

This article was correct at publication on 18/05/2016. It is intended as general guidance for members only. If you are a member and need specific advice relating to your own circumstances, please contact one of our advisers.

John Makin

Head of the DDU

John Makin BDS PgDL PgCDE FHEA is head of the DDU. He qualified in Manchester in 1983 and has worked as a general dental practitioner in Lancashire and Devon before joining the DDU as a dento-legal adviser. He was involved with foundation training for many years as both a trainer and VT adviser/training programme director with the Manchester and Exeter DFT schemes. 

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