Ethics in Dental Practice

Written by michael wolfe
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Ethics in Dental Practice
Dentists face a number of ethical issues in their practice. (teeth image by JASON WINTER from

Dentists, like all health care professionals, face a number of ethical issues related to the treatment of their patients. Some issues are explicitly medical, involving the treatment of the patient. Other issues are related to the management of a dentist's practice, such as employment, corporate sponsorship and advertising.

Comestic Dentistry

Dentists know that healthy teeth are not always beautiful. A patient may have perfectly healthy teeth that, through discolouration or a lack of alignment, do not meet society's aesthetic ideal. According to the American College of Dentists, this raises tough ethical questions for dentists. For example, when a patient visits the dentist for a checkup or a routine cleaning, should a dentist comment on the imperfection and suggest corrective procedures? On one hand, this may make the patient feel needlessly insecure about the look of his teeth, potentially allowing the dentist to capitalise financially on this insecurity in the form of an expensive cosmetic procedure. On the other hand, a patient may be unaware that his problem is fixable; to not inform him of this fact might be considered negligent.

Corporate Sponsorship

Often, after cleaning a patient's teeth or performing a routine procedure, dentists will offer the patient free dental hygiene products, such as tooth brushes, packs of floss and tubes of toothpaste. According to the American Society for Dental Ethics, dentists often receive many of these free products from medical supply companies seeking to advertise their products. While most patients are happy to receive these gifts, the practice raises a number of ethical issues. For example, if a dentist offers a sample to a patient, is it his responsibility to make sure the gift is of a high quality? Does passing along the free sample constitute an endorsement of the product? And, by accepting free gifts from the company, is the dentist's impartiality undermined?

Infectious Diseases

According to David T. Ozar and David J. Sokol, authors of the book, "Dental Ethics at Chairside," an ethical issue may arise when treating patients with highly infectious diseases. For example, fearing infection, a dentist may wonder if he can ethically refuse to treat the patient. Or, if he does choose to treat the patient, can he ethically assess the patient a surcharge for the expense of taking increased precautions against infection? If she is referring the patient to another dentist, she may wonder if it is ethical to inform the new dentist so that he may take proper precautions.

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