Introduction

Every dentist and dental hygienist is granted special rights and responsibilities when they earn the credentials to become an oral health care professional. A professional person is one who has completed a specialized program of knowledge and gained a license in a discipline that is of value to society.

In the corporate world, success is often measured by financial gain. For the health care professional, the motive of the patient's welfare is placed above the profit motive. Because of this service motive, society has granted to the health care professional a certain status that carries prestige, power, and the right to apply that special knowledge and skill.

When patients seek care from any health care provider, they expect to receive the very best care from a professional and ethical practitioner. The health care services provided involve technical skill, appropriate knowledge, critical judgment, and most importantly, empathy and caring. It is the essence of caring that patients perceive and to which they respond. In the delivery of health care, trust is the critical foundation for the relationship that develops between the person seeking services—the patient—and the health care provider—the professional. The patient is aware that the health care provider has certain knowledge and skills. However, it is the caring the patient seeks that gives the provider of dental services the greatest opportunity for professional service and satisfaction. An understanding of ethical issues and an awareness of the ethical obligations inherent in the provision of health care will enable the dental professional to deal effectively with patients and their community.1