Informed Consent

Informed consent is a critical concept in health care grounded in the ADA Code of Professional Conduct11 and the ethical principles of patient autonomy, veracity, non-maleficence, beneficence and justice.11,12 Informed consent describes both the legal and ethical standard by which to judge the professionally correct relationship between the patient and the health care provider.12 The health care provider must truthfully impart the necessary information about the proposed procedure so that the patient can make an informed decision about accepting or declining care. This implies a mutual sharing of information between the practitioner and the patient with opportunity for discussion and questions. An ideal relationship is interactive and requires respect for autonomy and choice for both parties involved.12

To provide valid legal consent,12 the patient must:

  • be legally capable or competent of choice,
  • be informed by the provider about the procedure or care under consideration, including each available course of action in the dentist’s professional judgment including no action, and the respective likely outcome, and
  • choose or consent voluntarily.

Consent may be implied by an action such as a nod of the head but a verbal or expressed consent is preferable because it more clearly communicates the patient’s actual intent or agreement to proceed with the proposed procedure.

When a minor is under the dentist’s care, the child’s parents have the legal right to choose and consent to the proposed dental care for their child as do court-appointed guardians for their wards.12

The guidelines indicate that the dentist should be prepared to discuss the benefits and risks associated with radiographic examinations with patients and/or their parents or guardians.1 There are several resources available to assist the dentist in facilitating the conversation about radiation risk.13-16