If you're a qualified dental professional, you have a responsibility to make sure you're representing yourself accurately and appropriately to patients.

One of the primary functions of the General Dental Council (GDC) is to maintain an up-to-date register of dental professionals eligible to work in the UK. Its work is defined and governed by the Dentists Act 1984, and its website includes the following as one of the objectives:

  • "To protect, promote and maintain the health, safety, and well-being of the public. We do this by maintaining a public register of qualified dental professionals, which enables people to confirm that their dental team are registered and regulated. We have developed a scope of practice, which helps the public and dental professionals understand the different roles of each of the members of the dental team."

Therefore, all dental professionals must ensure they only use the title that relates to their registration. As well as this, they must not work outside the scope of practice of their registered group, and ensure they don't imply they are a 'specialist' without being on one of the 13 GDC specialist lists.

Accuracy in advertising

On the face of it, this all sounds straight forward. But unfortunately registrants can find themselves falling foul of the regulations through no fault of their own.

One of the first pitfalls to be aware of is advertising, whether it's the practice website, practice brochure or your own social media platforms. We would strongly advise that you have sight of all and any marketing material that mentions you by name, to ensure it uses your correct title and description of your GDC registered scope of practice.

We also advise caution when giving testimonials or comment that may be added to a company’s promotional material. You should approve any quote before it's used, to check it accurately reflects your comment, your role and your registered title.

What's in a name?

Careful use of titles is particularly relevant for non-EEA colleagues, who qualified as dentists overseas and who have registered with the GDC under Section 36(C) of the Dentist Act as a dental care professional (DCP), often whilst waiting to pass the Overseas Registration Examination (ORE).

Over-enthusiastic marketing can lead to complaints by patients and other colleagues alike.

It is imperative that these registrants restrict their practice to that of their registered title and explain to patients the limit of their scope of practice here in the UK. They must not be described as a dentist unless or until they are registered by the GDC as a dentist.

Until that time, the practice must not refer to them as a dentist nor use the courtesy title of 'Dr'.

Ethical advertising

The GDC has its own guidance on advertising, which emphasises the need to adhere to standard 1.3.3 of its 'Standards for the dental team'.

This makes it clear that all dental professionals are responsible for making sure any advert that mentions their name:

  • includes current and accurate information
  • includes their GDC registration number
  • uses clear language that patients are likely to understand
  • backs up claims with facts
  • avoids ambiguous statements
  • avoids claims that are intended or likely to create unjustified expectations about achievable results.

Specialist titles

The term 'specialist' should only be used to describe a dental professional who is on the relevant GDC specialist list. This also applies to titles that imply specialist status, such as endodontist, although terms such as "experienced in..." or "special interest in..." are acceptable.

There are 13 specialist lists held by the GDC:

  1. dental and maxillofacial radiology
  2. orthodontics
  3. dental public health
  4. paediatric dentistry
  5. endodontics
  6. periodontics
  7. oral and maxillofacial pathology
  8. prosthodontics
  9. oral medicine
  10. restorative dentistry
  11. oral microbiology
  12. special care dentistry
  13. oral surgery.
DDU Social media course 2023

Causes for concern - and complaints

Over-enthusiastic marketing can lead to complaints by patients and other colleagues alike. A common error is the description of a dentist as an 'implantologist', a title not recognised by the GDC. Other examples of titles that would cause concern include 'specialist sedation nurse' or 'specialist denturist', as there is no specialist list for DCPs.

It is important that correct titles are used to ensure appropriate referrals to the correct colleagues, as any misuse of a title can have implications for patient care.

While practices can employ trainee dental nurses who are enrolled on an accredited dental nursing course, the title 'dental nurse' is protected and can only be applied to qualified dental nurses registered with the GDC.

Social media and marketing regulations

Please be aware that your social media platforms also need to comply. Avoid comparisons and unsubstantiated claims, such as your practice is 'the best' for whitening procedures or you have ‘exceptional skills’. There is always a chance that other dental professionals might object to such claims, feeling their practice has been denigrated by the implication.

Dental professionals must also advertise in line with the Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) Code, which requires adverts to be 'legal, decent, honest and truthful'.

The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has the power to remove any advert found to contravene the Code and can refer persistent offenders to Trading Standards.

The Committee of Advertising Practice can advise whether your advert complies with the CAP code.

If you're a DDU member and have any questions about the dento-legal aspects of advertising, contact one of our advisers. We'll be happy to help.

This page was correct at publication on 18/03/2024. Any guidance 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.