Dentists may be deliberately misleading their patients about their NHS entitlements to prompt them to pay for private care, a watchdog has said.
Half a million patients a year may have unnecessarily paid to receive private dental treatment after receiving inaccurate information from their dentist about health service entitlements, an Office of Fair Trading (OFT) study found.
Patients are given insufficient information to make informed decisions about their choice of dentists and the treatments they receive, and the dental industry is not always working in their best interest, the report said.
The OFT, which enforces consumer protection law and competition law, has called for major changes to the dentistry market in the UK after the study also raised concerns about restrictions preventing patients from directly accessing dental care professionals, such as hygienists, without a referral from a dentist.
These restrictions are unjustified and likely to reduce patient choice and dampen competition, the OFT said.
John Fingleton, chief executive of the OFT, said: "Our study has raised significant concerns about the UK dentistry market which need to be tackled quickly in the interest of patients.
"All too often patients lack access to the information they need, for example when choosing a dentist or when getting dental treatment.
"We also unearthed evidence that some patients may be receiving deliberately inaccurate information about their entitlement to NHS dental treatment, and we expect to see robust action taken against such potential misconduct by dentists."
Dr Susie Sanderson, chair of the British Dental Association's executive board, said: "Research by bodies including the regulator of dentistry, the General Dental Council, confirms that the vast majority of patients are happy with the care they receive. The Office of Fair Trading's own research also confirms this to be the case.
"Where patients do have concerns about their care, it is clearly important that they have an effective complaints process. This is helpful for dentists and patients alike and dentists support the goal of making the process as simple as possible."