Dental Ethics Suggest Professional Loyalty Runs High
In our most recent survey, we asked: What do you do when you see a patient who’s had terrible work done by another dentist?
Our survey results suggest professional courtesy overrides other concerns – but unfortunately, it’s not clear if that’s based on doctors’ ethical standards or if it’s actually based on fear of lawyers and possible legal repercussions.
Less than one-third of our respondents said, “Your primary obligation is to your patient. If their previous dental work was bad, they deserve to know, and it’s your job to tell them.” The majority said, “You keep your mouth shut out of respect to your dental colleagues. You don’t know the whole story, and it’s not ethical to bash another doctor’s work.”
The more urban the dentist, the more likely they were to keep quiet. Presumably, urban dentists (and, to a lesser extent, suburban dentists) are more sensitive to the possible legal issues that could arise from criticizing another doctor’s work.
The comments we received highlight doctors’ various concerns. Read more comments
It’s not the dentist’s place to bad-mouth other dentists
- “Often if you bad mouth another and come up with an expensive plan, the patient may think ill of you.” (suburban Pennsylvania)
- “You can get your point across diplomatically. ‘He who slings mud loses ground. ‘” (Rural Maine)
- “My best today is better than my best was yesterday… I give my colleagues the benefit of the doubt.” (suburban Indiana)
What about their previous dentist?
- “I have redone work by another dentist at no charge to the patient.” (suburban Kansas)
- “I quite often offer to send the other dentist a letter with my findings.” (suburban California)
- “I advise patients to see their previous dentist to have them ‘check’ the treatment and allow them the opportunity to rectify the situation.” (rural Arkansas)
The patient does have a right to know what’s in his or her mouth
- “I don’t like to say bad things about other people’s dentistry, but if it is failing and I don’t say anything, I’m as much on the hook for it as the original provider.” (rural Colorado)
- “If the patient asks (which they never do), then you have to tell the truth.” (urban California)
- “The patient has a right to be informed of the conditions found in his mouth.” (rural Kentucky)
Unless you were there, you don’t know the whole story
- “Another option would be to say, ‘I wasn’t there, but it appears that I would have done things differently.’ I suggest people in glass houses not throw stones!” (urban Texas)
- “Walk a mile in the other dentist’s shoes before you judge their work.” (suburban North Carolina)
- “I have seen a dentist criticize another’s work… only to have his look exactly the same on the x-ray.” (suburban North Carolina)
Lawyers are now part of the equation
- “Lots of lawyers! You can no longer be truthful or you will pay.” (suburban New Jersey)