Mail order dentistry at root of number of complaints

Companies selling kits by post often not even dentists, complaints resolution service says

Complaints about DIY dentistry were among issues raised with the Dental Complaints Resolution Service last year, the service's facilitator has said.

Speaking at the launch of the service's annual report, Michael Kilcoyne said he had received 10 complaints about DIY dentistry in 2016, an increase on 2015. The complaints, which involved the use of home orthodontic kits to straighten teeth and home teeth-whitening kits, centred on the kits not behaving in the manner customers expected.

Consumers seeking teeth-straightening take impressions of their own teeth and send them off in the post, and a brace is made to fit the impression. Some companies use PO box addresses for their services, Mr Kilcoyne said.

“I’m a bit concerned that this trend is emerging,” he said. “If you have a pain in your back, you will generally go to the doctor – you won’t go to the DIY shop.”


He said consumers might think the companies selling kits by post have “some kind of dental experience” or are dentists, but “in actual fact they are not”.

"We cannot pursue them because they are not regulated by the Dental Council, so it is an area I would advise consumers to be really, really careful about," he said.

According to the annual report, there were 1,235 contacts from patients last year. After these were analysed and patients had raised their concerns directly with dentists in the first instance, 102 complaints were accepted from patients, down from 134 in 2015 and 158 in 2014.

The main areas of concern for patients were fees, clinical issues and communication failures. The service resolved 58 complaints, and resolutions included a refund of fees, retreatment or remedial treatment with a different dentist.

‘Rude’ dentist

Seven cases did not proceed after the service found there was no substance to the complaints. One of the complaints involved rudeness.

Mr Kilcoyne said the problem had been with the dentist’s attitude. He was abrupt and didn’t answer the patient’s questions, and “probably was having a bad day”. The service became involved and the dentist apologised to the patient, sent her a letter and sent her “more than a few euro back”.

The service was established five years ago and is supported by – but independent of – the Irish Dental Association. It works on a voluntary basis, and recommendations are nonbinding.

Mr Kilcoyne said the drop to 102 complaints last year was welcome.

“There are more and more patients going to their dentist now with their complaints, and the dentist is sitting down and sorting it out. We are getting that in the feedback,” he said.

Of the dentists involved, 31 per cent were not members of the Irish Dental Association. Mr Kilcoyne said dentists that are not members of the association “are probably not as aware of their obligations to their patients”.

Also speaking at the report launch, Dr Eamon Croke, treasurer of the association, highlighted the pitfalls of DIY dentistry. He said consumers don't know whether or not they have taken a good or bad impression with the home assessment kit sent to them.

“You send it off and you don’t know who sees it afterwards, you don’t know where the assessment is done. They do offer dental intervention at some point, but it tends to be if things aren’t going right,” he said.

“You don’t have any of that ability to have a proper assessment to be carried out. It is difficult to know even if your teeth are in a fit state.”

He warned dentists “who may align themselves with these companies” that they had “exactly the same ethical obligations” as though “the patient walked straight in the door to them”.

Fiona Gartland

Fiona Gartland

Fiona Gartland is a crime writer and former Irish Times journalist