Published: 24/10/2002, Volume II2, No. 5828 Page 9

The British Dental Association says it fears the introduction of price capping for private dentists when the investigation into the industry by the Office of Fair Trading ends later this year.

The inquiry, launched in January, was prompted by a complaint by the Consumers' Association that patients were facing huge variations in the costs of treatments, including allegations that some were paying six times'more than NHS prices for routine treatments.

Speaking at a conference in London last week, BDA chair Dr John Renshaw told HSJ: 'Certainly our biggest fear is that the OFT inquiry will be saying there should be some form of regulation on prices. I think this not only will be a shift from its original remit but it will interfere with a market that is still in its infancy.

'At the moment we do not have any retail mechanism where prices can be compared. Patients do not pay for a fixed product like you would in a commodity market. They pay for clinical treatment which ethically shouldn't be treated as a commodity.'

The BDA also claims that price capping would stifle investment and innovation. The association accepts the need for greater transparency and is urging dental practices to display a list of 'typical' prices. It also wants to see improved communication between pr ivate dentists and their patients so patients are better informed.

Dr Renshaw said the industry had faced a 'challenging' year - along with the OFT investigation, there has been the longrunning row over water fluoridation and the critical report on access to NHS dental care by the Audit Commission.

The government has also launched Options for Change, outlining new methods for paying dentists as well as the commissioning of dental care from primary care trusts rather than through a national contract.