A terrible case of dental incompetence was reported in several newspapers this week. This was the case of Piotr Reichel who fitted four dental implants for a patient in Cornwall, which all subsequently failed and left the patient with no teeth in her upper jaw. The General Dental Council investigated the case and withdrew the dentist's licence to practice, citing failures in the planning and execution of the treatment, the information given to the patient and the manner in which later complaints were handled.
The case raises fundamental issues that merit discussion:
The first is that patients need to be confident that their implant surgeon is competent to provide the treatment they propose. A competent surgeon should be able to demonstrate a proven record of success in dental implants perhaps backed up by further qualifications and plenty of experience. A recommendation or referral from your usual dentist helps patients, as do testimonials from other patients who have experienced the treatment.
The second issue concerns dentists' indemnity insurance that protects patients. In the event of a claim against any dentist for compensation, the indemnity insurers are expected to pay compensation if the insured dentist loses a legal claim against him. It is a legal requirement for all dentists to buy indemnity insurance and Piotr Reichel appears to have done this. However when this patient from Cornwall tried to make her claim, Piotr Reichel had returned to Poland and did not contact his indemnifiers, who now refuse to even discuss the case. So the patient has been left without any recourse to make a claim. We urge the government to legislate so that this situation could not occur in future, patients must be protected by dentists' indemnity insurance even if a dentist has left the country, retired or died.
At Ock Street Clinic we vet our dentists to ensure they are qualified, experienced and competent, and we check every year that they have valid insurance in place. We urge the government to ensure indemnity providers provide cover even in the absence of a dentist.