Ethical Dilemmas in Oral Health Care

The two main goals involved in ethics are the ability to discern right from wrong and the commitment to act on a decision. As clinicians providing care and services, every dentist and dental hygienist will be faced with many choices, problems and dilemmas. Some of these choices will be simple issues of right and wrong, whereas others may be ethical dilemmas that require careful decision making. The clinician must be aware of the ethical issues that can arise and be prepared to take appropriate action when necessary.

A useful tool the clinician can refer to is the appropriate code of ethics for their discipline. For the dentist, it is the American Dental Association’s (ADA) Principles of Ethics and Code of Professional Conduct and for the dental hygienist it is the American Dental Hygienists’ Association (ADHA) Code of Ethics for Dental Hygienists.2,3

Codes of ethics are the written standards to which health care professionals agree to adhere before society, which grants certain privileges to these groups. Among these privileges is societal trust and self-regulation. Once an individual has gained the necessary professional knowledge and skill and acquired a professional license, he or she is accorded professional status. The responsibility that goes with this status is to uphold the principles and core values of the professions. Principles help address the moral question: What ought a person to do in a troublesome situation? More specifically, what is good, right, or proper for a person to do in this situation? Normative principles provide a cognitive framework for analyzing moral questions and problems