Make an educated choice

Continuing Professional Deveopment is now a mandatory requirement for all members of a dental team and offers the opportunity to sharpen existing skills and develop new ones

31 March, 2015 / dcp-focus
 Margaret Ross    Mike Wilkinson

Since 2008, Continuing Professional Development (CPD) has been a mandatory requirement for all members of the dental team, and is one of the essential components of maintaining registration with the General Dental Council (GDC).

The principle functions of the GDC are to protect patients and to register all members of the dental team. It is a privilege to be in a position of caring for patients, whether you are involved in providing treatment or acting in a supportive professional role, both of which are equally important. Being a registrant carries with it responsibilities to our patients and to ourselves as healthcare professionals. If the standards which are expected of us are jeopardised in any way, then registration can be removed either temporarily or permanently. The numbers of cases involving Dental Care Professionals (DCPs) which are brought to the attention of the GDC Fitness to Practise Committee are comparatively small but sadly, they are on the increase.

To achieve a primary qualification in any aspect of dentistry is only the first stage of education in what should be a lifelong continuum of professional development and enhancement. As all professionals are aware, DCPs must undertake at least 150 hours of CPD every five years and, at least 50 of these should be ‘verifiable’ and must include documentary evidence of attendance at any event. It is the individual’s responsibility to keep a record of all CPD as the GDC carries out random audits of registrants to ensure that CPD has been completed. CPD should be exciting, it should provide you with new and up-to-date information and it should leave you with a thirst for further knowledge. At times, it can be challenging as it may disagree with previously held theories and ideas. All things evolve and this is very much the case with the role and significance of DCPs within the dental team.

CPD should be appropriate to the field in which you are employed and not just something that ‘ticks the box’ from a GDC perspective

Margaret Ross

Dentistry has perhaps undergone its most radical change in recent years where we have had the emergence of new groups of DCPs namely Orthodontic Therapists and Clinical Dental Technicians who wish to focus their clinical skills, and an expansion of roles and responsibilities of existing team members. This means that there are now six groups of DCPs all of whom have equal importance, with the common purpose of caring for and treating the patient. Perhaps one of the major developments has been in relation to the advent of ‘Direct Access’ for patients to dental hygienists and therapists. This was met with a mixed response by the dental profession, and there was a great deal of initial unrest about the effect this would have on the provision of treatment for patients. As with so many things that produce a predominantly emotional response, attract publicity and sometimes hostile dialogue, the unrest disappeared relatively quickly.

Those opposed to this major change appeared to realise that hygienist-therapists did not want to open practices and enter the business of dentistry, but merely be recognised for their clinical ability and professional status.

There are a number of statutory regulations which are hindering the progress of Direct Access to allow it to function as it was intended. Some of these would appear to be simple to rectify, for example involving the administration of local analgesia or the application of fluoride but surprisingly, they are not. This is as a result of these items belonging to the group of ‘Prescription only Medicines’ which can currently only be prescribed by a dentist. The other issue is in relation to the allocation of NHS list numbers which would allow hygienists and therapists to provide services directly to patients within the NHS.
These essential changes to facilitate full professional effectiveness for these clinicians will involve protracted but necessary legal processes which, it is hoped, will be instigated as soon as possible.

The scope of practice for all DCPs may well expand in the future as a result of changing demographics and workforce planning. We already have dental nurses employed in the Childsmile Programme, where they make a significant contribution to the prevention of caries by applying fluoride varnish to the primary dentition of nursery school children.

This is a clinical breakthrough for dental nurses, as it is the first time they have actively been involved in providing treatment for patients. In addition to the many professional further qualifications available to them, the GDC Scope of Practice document highlights a number of other clinical activities dental nurses can provide if they are trained and competent to do so. These include placing rubber dam, pouring, casting and trimming study models and removing sutures after the wound has been checked by a dentist. There are several additional skills which can also be acquired by dental technicians, for example, in relation to intra-oral scanning for CAD/CAM or carrying out implant framework assessments. The options for development are many and varied for all DCPs and are only likely to increase for each professional group.These skills are all dependent on CPD and aspiring to work to one’s full potential, avoiding professional or educational stagnation!

CPD is a vital component in each dental professional’s career, not merely to maintain GDC registration but to remain up-to-date with knowledge, techniques and procedures. It should be appropriate to the field in which you are employed and not just something which ‘ticks the box’ from a GDC perspective. Continuing education is at the core of all professional development and it should be embraced and sought after. Any future change in the delivery of dentistry in the UK depends on having a workforce which is educationally and intellectually prepared to meet new challenges.

The world of dentistry is not static but moves in response to the sophistication of techniques, the skills of the dental team and the changing oral health needs of the population. Dental Care Professionals are central to effective, high quality patient care and this innovative section of the magazine will aim to provide an educational and inspirational resource at your fingertips!

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