7 Ethical Issues Dentists Must Consider

By: Dinethra Menon - MedicalSearch Writer
10 November, 2014

Dentists are among the most trusted professionals, committed to a set of standards that appropriately use their expertise. While ethical conduct can be a forgotten aspect of dental training, a dentist can never place too much focus on their professional judgment.

So what are seven ethical issues to consider in dental practice? 

Over-diagnosis and over-treating patients for financial gain

A survey of US dentists and dental educators found over-diagnosis for financial gain to be the most common ethical issue. Examples of financial gain may be recommending the upper-left first molar needs a two-surface amalgam restoration, or suggesting a product or service that is aligned with a commercial interest.

Although some dentists may offer services based on what the patient is willing to pay, consider your patients' needs and well-being before offering dental treatments. 

Professional competence from continued dental education

Effective dental care and professional competence relies on continued education throughout your career. You may need to keep up to date with scientific, clinical and technical developments.

Harmful or risky practices in dentistry are considered notifiable conduct. Mandatory reporting of unprofessional or incompetent colleagues is a requirement in the National Law.

Read more about the guidelines for mandatory notifications by the Dental Board of Australia 

Appropriate delegation

Owners of dental practices may delegate tasks to employed allied dental personnel who are legally authorised, formally educated, trained and competent. A dental hygienist performing a routine clean can be considered an effective use of time.

Consider the biomedical ethical principle of non-maleficence when a treatment might knowingly harm your patients, or does not meet practice standards. 

Confidentiality and privacy

The simple act of transferring patient records to another practitioner requires adhering to confidentiality and privacy laws. Even with widespread use of electronic patient records, your practice staff may need to undertake training for secure handling of patient information.

Access the health information and Privacy Act for more information 

Misleading or false advertising

Advertising that is misleading or false may harm your reputation, perhaps even the dental profession. Maintain consistency with professional standards of advertising services by complying with legislation, regulations, codes and guidelines that govern dentistry.

Read the Dental Board of Australia's guidelines for advertising regulated health services 

Patient consent for dental decisions

Patient autonomy allows patients to be equipped to make their own decisions. However a patient may not have capacity to give voluntary consent for procedures. Dentists may assist patients to make informed decisions while meeting legal and professional requirements.

Read the Australian Dental Association's consent for care in dentistry guidelines 

Failure to refer patients when appropriate

Dentists have an obligation to perform treatment only within their area of competence. Dentists who are treating patients from another dentist may need to notify the referring dentist, while not questioning their integrity.

Inform patients that they may consult or change dentists at any time, even during a course of treatment.