Sticking to a code of ethics is a great way for dental assistants to show that they care about their patients. Many patients see dental professionals as authorities and as such should present themselves and their decisions in an ethical manner. A dental professional’s code of ethics are not laws but a method of self-regulation within the dental profession.
Principles of Ethics
The actions and decisions of dental assistants and other healthcare providers are guided by ethical principles. There are six basic principles of ethics that help guide dental assistants. The dental assistant code of ethics according to the includes autonomy, beneficence, justice, nonmaleficence, and veracity. Confidentiality is included as a legal and ethical obligation of dental professionals associated with patient autonomy.
The dental professional has a duty to respect the patient’s rights to self-determination. Patients are free to do what they like as long as they do not break the law or cause anyone else harm. Autonomy gives the dental assistant the freedom to think, judge, and act independently without undue influence. Ultimately, autonomy gives a patient the right to privacy, freedom of choice and acceptance of responsibility for one’s own actions.
The dental professional should include the patient in treatment decisions while considering the patient’s needs, desires and abilities. The dental professional is obligated to inform the patient of the proposed treatment and any reasonable alternatives.
Beneficence: To Do Good
Actions are ethical as long as they will benefit a person or a community. More than not harming the patient, the dental professional is ethically obligated to promote the patient’s welfare. Dental professionals have an obligation to make any results that are beneficial to the community if they are useful in safeguarding or promoting the health of the community.
Dental professionals have the obligation to create a place of employment that supports respectful and collaborative interactions while providing oral health care to patients.
Confidentiality: Patient’s Right to Privacy
According to HIPAA, patients have a right to privacy concerning their healthcare and treatment choices. Respecting a patient’s privacy is a legal and ethical obligation. The dental professional should maintain patient records with the protection of the welfare of the patient top of mind. Dental professionals will however provide information applicable by law to the patient or other dental practitioner (that is now the patient’s current dentist) that will be beneficial for the future treatment of the patient.
Treating people fairly and giving people what they are entitled to receive. All patients should receive the same quality of dental care regardless of race, religion, country of origin, age, education level or gender. This also includes a patient that is not able to pay. They should receive the same quality of dental care even if unable to pay. The dental professionals should deliver dental care without prejudice.
The dental professionals should take care when commenting on a patient’s oral health and remain truthful, informed and justifiable. A difference of opinion should be communicated to the patient by the dental professional. However, the dental professional should not make unjustifiable disparaging statements against another dental professional.
Nonmaleficence: Do No Harm
To do no harm. The dental professional has a duty to refrain from harming the patient. This includes being aware of current knowledge through continued education, understanding when to refer the patient to a specialist and knowing when to delegate patient care to a dental assistant. All dental professionals have an obligation to keep their knowledge and skill current. Dental professionals are obligated to protect the patient’s health by only assigning their care to a dental assistant when relevant and while supervising the dental assistant.
It is both unethical and illegal for a dental professional to practice while impaired by a controlled substance, alcohol or chemical agent. A dental assistant that is aware of another dental professional that is practicing while impaired is ethically responsible for reporting that dental professional.
A dental professional has an ethical obligation to inform any patient who may have been exposed to any blood or bloodborne pathogen. The dental professional will want to immediately refer the patient to a healthcare practitioner that can provide post-exposure services.
After taking on a patient, the dental professional should not discontinue treatment without giving the patient “adequate notice.” The dental professional should give the patient an opportunity to seek out another dentist. During this process, the dental professional is ethically obligated to not jeopardize the patient’s oral health.
Veracity: Telling the Truth
The dental assistant is morally obligated to tell the patient the truth about their condition. The dental professional must respect the position of trust between a dental professional and patient, communicate truthfully and without deception, and maintain intellectual integrity.
The dental professional is not acting ethically if diagnose or cure of a disease or infection is not based on scientific knowledge. The dental professional that increases a fee for a patient because the patient is covered under a dental benefits plan is unethical. It would also be unethical for a dental professional to change the dates of treatment to help a patient obtain a benefit.
Everyday a dental assistant my run into an ethical dilemma. This can happen when more than one ethical principle is in conflict. For example, should confidentiality of one person stop the dental professional from benefiting the community at large, especially when the community is in harm’s way. There are a few steps for dental assistants to take when presented with an ethical dilemma. The dental assistant should identify any alternatives that will be more ethical. They will want to consider the professional implications of their decision. The dental assistant will want to rank the alternatives to find the most ethical one. Finally, after a decision is made, they will want to choose a course of action that is both ethical and professional.
Interested in learning more about dental assistant code of ethics? Are you ready to learn more about how to become a dental assistant? The Dental Assistant training program at Meridian College provides extensive hands-on training including a school externship at a dental office where you will assist the dentist to treat actual patients.
Contact Meridian College today to learn more about becoming a dental assistant.