Although it is of course still possible to thrive as a dentist on word of mouth alone, in the increasingly competitive market for elective treatment, many dental professionals will have considered advertising either using more traditional means, or social media platforms.

Advertising particular treatments you provide, or more general advertising, may help you professionally and in business, but it is important to be aware of some of the potential dangers. Being deliberately misleading by embellishing the truth is something the majority of the profession will of course avoid, but there is also the potential for what appear to be completely benign adverts or statements to be misinterpreted by patients or regulatory bodies.

'Implantology'

The term 'implantologist' is an example of a description which is sometimes used within the profession for a dentist who provides implant treatment. There are certainly many very skilled dentists in this area, as well as those who choose to focus their practice on providing implants - indeed, many choose to concentrate purely in this field. Providers may be on the specialist lists in one of the recognised specialties, while others may be GDPs, albeit with training specific to providing implants.

However, there is currently no specialist list for implantology, and although it may seem an accurate description of a dentist particularly skilled in this area, it is advisable to use the term with caution when presenting yourself to the public.

Although the term 'implantology', and 'implantologist' are used commonly within the profession, the use of these words in advertising may be misinterpreted by patients as suggesting the provider is a specialist. Dentists have been criticised during GDC investigations for using the term in advertising and allegations brought because of the potentially misleading reference to specialism, whether deliberate or not.

Aesthetic treatments

Another area of huge growth, and one in which advertising is used regularly, is aesthetic treatment. Although treatments such as minimally invasive composite restorations are relatively straightforward to advertise if the correct consent process is applied by using before and after photographs, other treatments in this field, such as injectable facial aesthetic treatments, are potentially more legally hazardous. The Advertising Standards Agency (ASA) may view adverts in this format as an efficacy claim, which they do not permit.

In addition to this, prescription-only medicines (POMs) cannot be advertised to the public. This includes botulinium toxin (ASA rule 12.12). However, if you offer POMs as well as other injected treatments, the ASA suggests you use terms such as 'cosmetic fillers' or 'injected fillers'.

There is also the potential for what appear to be completely benign adverts or statements to be misinterpreted by patients or regulatory bodies.

Standards

Dental professionals have a duty to advertise in accordance with standards set by the ASA and Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP). ASA requirements state that all advertisements must be legal, decent, honest and truthful. They must not mislead, harm or offend. The ASA has the power to remove any advert that they feel is unsuitable and refer persistent offenders who advertise inappropriately to other bodies, such as Trading Standards.

The majority of dental professionals advertise ethically and in line with their legal obligations. However, it is important to regularly review all promotional material featuring you or your work, especially when it is written on your behalf by practices, or even the person who maintains your website. Although misrepresentation may be innocent, should it come to their attention, not complying with guidance could risk action by the GDC and the ASA.

The GDC acknowledges that advertising and marketing material can help patients in making informed choices about their dental care. Nevertheless, overtly or potentially misleading information may attract negative attention from patients and increase the risk of complaints, either directly to the practice or to regulatory bodies.

The GDC provides a helpful checklist for any dentist thinking of advertising. It may also be wise to assess any promotional material against the current guidance and standards in force at the time:

The DDU can of course give specific advice to members if required.


This article was correct at publication on 26/03/2019. 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.

Eric Easson

Eric qualified in 2001 at Manchester University, gained the MFGDP (UK) in 2006 and a Masters in Medical Law (LLM) in 2015. As well as being a dento-legal adviser for the DDU, he works in general practice and as a clinical teaching fellow at Manchester University.

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