It's fair to say all the recent hullabaloo surrounding whether or not a dentist should or should not be assigned the title of ‘Dr' has struck a nerve with me of late. The issue, which has been bubbling away for the last year, will now been resolved in May, after the General Dental Council's (GDC) decision to put back the verdict. The additional time to investigate the matter further is, if nothing else, encouraging and shows the profession that the Council is willing carry out a detailed assessment of the issue.
The use of ‘Dr' as a courtesy title for dentists has never been an important issue for the public and there is certainly nothing to suggest the use of the title hurts them in any way. To ban the use of the title now, after almost 20 years, would only go to confuse patients while potentially causing serious harm to the reputation of the profession.
Around the world, dentists have been legally using the ‘Dr' title for a very long time - and rightfully so. Although a dentist is not, by definition, a medical doctor, it remains highly appropriate to keep the ‘Dr' title for several reasons. Much like a doctor, a dentist chooses to focus on a certain speciality. Some will study to become oral surgeons, endodontic or paediatric dentists. Medical doctors who choose to specialise in a particular form of the body are assigned the title, so why not dentists? Similar to doctors, we choose our area of expertise, only ours is focused towards the caring and prevention of disease on the teeth and gums.
If dentists were prevented from using the title then we are drawing a definition, and appointing almost a ranking system, between different areas of the body. There should be no difference between treating those with an inflammation to the mouth than those who have one on their back, or their leg. Our mouths are not cut off from our bodies.
Another hazardous effect of all of this would be on those dentists qualified in the UK. Dentists from other countries who are working here are already assigned the ‘Dr' title, and without any way for the GDC to influence foreign legislation, it will immediately cause an unlevel playing field whereby the patient could have a scenario of choosing between two dentists - one with a title of doctor, and the other who does not - it will lead to utter confusion.
Many countries also happily accept vets as doctors, just as we do those who take PhDs in non-medically based subjects. Dentists certainly should not be cut from this list.
Perhaps, instead of going back and forth, discussing an issue with very little relevance, we should be turning our attention to the education and prevention of oral disease amongst the public themselves - a population which has over the years come to rely on dentists as medical professionals, just as they would do with medical doctors.