Dental Protection’s debut conference in Dublin on Saturday 29 September highlighted importance of front-of-office team as ‘first line of defense’.

Dentist Dr Garry Heavey explained the challenges facing the front team and added: ‘That’s pressure that dentists don’t have to face.’

Addressing the audience, Dr Heavey, past president of the Irish Dental Association (IDA), said: ‘Your front-of-office team are your first line of defense, and they will often be at the receiving end of your dissatisfied and angry patients.

‘Train them to respond as opposed to react. A response is professional instead of emotional, based on protocol, and is effective, efficient and consistent.’

Dr Heavey and many other speakers spoke on Dental Protection’s overall conference theme of ‘safer practice, better care’. Dr Martin Foster, head of dental services in Ireland at Dental Protection, introduced the conference followed by two keynote addresses from Simon Kayll, chief executive at Medical Protection Society, and Dr Raj Ratten, Dental Protection’s dental director.

Ahead of the conference, Dental Protection published new data revealing an increase of 146% in the number of negligence claims from 2008 to 2017 in Ireland.

A dentist is nearly twice as likely to receive a claim for clinical negligence as just nine years ago. A full-time dentist can now expect to receive two clinical negligence claims over a typical career.

Public enemy number one?

Introduced as ‘public enemy number one’, Dr Joe Mullen, chief dental inspector at the HSE, spoke to a captured audience about quality assurance in practice.

He explained what is checked in practice inspections and added that ‘policing an unworkable and outdated contract’ has its pitfalls.

But he pressed on, explaining that the purpose of inspections is to ‘protect the public, not to catch a dentist out’. Aware of the burden of regulation on small practices, Dr Mullen echoed Dr Heavey’s earlier comments on the front-of-office team, saying if you have dedicated staff to deal with certain responsibilities, this burden becomes manageable.

According to Dr Mullen, the most common reasons why practices fail dental inspections is due to decontamination standards and amalgam separators. Other issues included CPR training for staff, emergency kits, and no safety statement.

Dr Mullen offered tips on preparing on practice inspections, but emphasised the importance of continual preparation – not just as a one-time only solution. He directed delegates to the HSE document on preparing for practice inspections.

Hilary Steele, claims lead for Ireland at Dental Protection, provided an insight into the claims environment affecting dentists. The rest of the conference looked at ways to tackle some of the challenges facing modern clinicians, such as taking steps to reduce the likelihood of a complaint or claim, dealing with difficult patients and dealing with burnout, stress and incorporating self-care into their lives.

Building resilience

Commenting on the conference, Dr Raj Rattan said: ‘Dental Protection’s philosophy is to support safe practice in dentistry by averting problems before they escalate into a complaint or claim.

‘We know safe practice leads to better care for patients, but dentists must also recognise the importance of self-care if they were to optimise the care and clinical outcomes for their patients.

‘Our inaugural dental conference provided an opportunity for dentists to learn about trending dentolegal topics that may impact them, hear case-based scenarios, exchange experiences and learn more about recognising and building resilience while meeting their CPD requirements.’

The day rounded off with presentations on dealing with burnout and stress and looking after yourself, with discussions on general anxiety and working in Irish dentistry.