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Ethics in Dentistry: Part I - Principles and Values

Course Number: 510


Beneficence is the principle that actions and practices are right insofar as they produce good consequences.7 Whereas nonmaleficence is concerned with doing no harm to a patient, beneficence requires that existing harm be removed. Beneficence focuses on “doing good” for the patient. Doing good requires taking all appropriate actions to restore patients to healthy state. Health care providers, based on their knowledge and skill, use all reasonable means to benefit the patient. Dentists and hygienists have acquired a body of knowledge and corresponding skills that make them uniquely qualified to help identify patient needs and recommend and provide services to address those needs. Thus, their unique knowledge and skills allow them to benefit the patient by removing existing harm and assisting in the prevention of future harm.

Beneficence and nonmaleficence often are linked because they are both founded in the Hippocratic tradition, which requires the physician to do what will best benefit the patient. This is a consequentialist approach. Meeting the requirement to do what the physician believes will best benefit the patient and implies the need to conduct a consequence analysis to determine the best possible outcome for the patient. Beneficence is found in all health care codes. By choosing to become a dentist or dental hygienist, an individual assumes a responsibility to help others and professes to be a part of a profession. This means that actions, behaviors, and attitudes must be consistent with a commitment to public service. This commitment to help and benefit others defines the healing professions and sets them apart from other occupations.

Any individual who is in a position to promote good for the benefit of others, such as health care professionals, and fails to increase the good of others is considered morally wrong. The purpose and existence of biomedical research, public health policies and programs, and preventive medicine are the formalized aspects of this part of health care. Through various federal, state, and community-based activities, society attempts to meet this need for the good of the general public. The promotion of good becomes challenging when good is defined according to differing values and belief systems. The teaching of careful oral hygiene self-care to maintain health and function is an example of promotion of good to many people. However, the removal of all carious teeth to eliminate pain and suffering may be considered promoting good to other individuals. In public health programs, the appropriation of limited resources to meet the medical and dental needs of a given population can be a complex and frustrating exercise. It is also part of being a health care professional, a leader who advocates for the betterment of society.