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Ethics in Dentistry: Part I - Principles and Values

Course Number: 510


Veracity is defined as being honest and telling the truth and is related to the principle of autonomy. It is the basis of the trust relationship established between a patient and a health care provider. Veracity is what binds the patient and the clinician as they seek to establish mutual treatment goals. Patients are expected to be truthful about their medical history, treatment expectations, and other relevant facts. Clinicians, for their part, must be truthful about the diagnosis, treatment options, benefits and disadvantages of each treatment option, cost of treatment, and the longevity afforded by the various treatment options. This allows patients to use their autonomy to make decisions in their own best interest.7 The obligation of veracity, based on respect for patients and autonomy, is acknowledged in most codes of ethics, including the codes of the ADHA and the ADA.

Lying to a patient does not respect the autonomy of the patient and can compromise any future relationships the patient may have with health care providers. Because relationships are built on trust, lying, even little “white lies,” easily erodes trust. Benevolent deception is the name given to the practice of withholding information from a patient because of the clinician’s belief that the information may harm the individual. This practice is in the tradition of the Hippocratic oath but is not supported by most codes of ethics and then only in extraordinary circumstances. Only a rare case would justify deceit in the dental setting. The interactive health care relationship between patient and clinician functions most effectively when both parties are truthful and adhere to all promises made in the process.