This article originally appeared in the Fall 2014 issue of Mouth. At the time, Stephanie Mazariegos, LECOM ’15, was the trustee from District 5. To read more from Mouth, click here.
For every headline that indicates dentists rank high among “most trusted professions,” there’s another condemning a dentist for fraud or patient mistreatment. As you enter a profession that relies on public trust, consider that your actions are a reflection on both you and the profession itself.
Is the media making dentists look bad?
Ethical terms such as nonmaleficence, autonomy and beneficence stand at the forefront of quality patient care. The standard of clinical care throughout school is extensive and tedious. A system of checks and balances ensures that patients receive a treatment plan geared toward their best interest. What happens after graduation when faculty no longer watch over you?
Headlines such as “Dentists May be Drilling For Your Cash” on CBS News Chicago and “How Dentists Rip Us Off ” in Reader’s Digest portray dentists as greedy. Allegations affect new graduates struggling to establish a practice while juggling mounting debt. According to a 2013 American Dental Education Association survey of dental school seniors, the average dental student loan debt is more than $215,000. Does the debt load make dentists more eager to suggest costly, more aggressive crowns when a restoration will do? Would it serve the patient’s best interest?
Dentists face obstacles daily that challenge their inner ethics. Patients who suffer carious lesions create a dilemma for the dentist: refill with restorative filling, or does this tooth need a crown? Most of the time the answer is clear. But some cases are less so. Nonmaleficence says do no harm, or not removing too much tooth structure. But dentistry is also a business, and financial obligations carry weight. The media fail to report the struggles that guide the decisions of dentists.
Dentistry is not black-and-white. There is no concrete formula to choose a restorative treatment. Treatment planning is based on clinical findings, ethics and the patient’s lifestyle. Sometimes the media fails to convey the complexity of these decisions.
Dentists take CE courses and research the safety and efficacy of new and existing treatment so that their patient’s risks are minimized. Based on research and beneficence, they choose a treatment plan that will maximize the benefits for the patient and minimize the risks. Media headlines fail to show how dentists care for their patients outside the clinic, by continually keeping up to date with new information.
Dentists will always face ethical dilemmas. Using resources such as the ADA and the American College of Dentists when facing these situations will make your decisions easier. Staying in contact with professors and keeping their advice in mind will allow you to maintain your ethics in practice.
~Stephanie Mazariegos, LECOM ’15, District 5 trustee