In February 2017, the Journal of Dental Hygiene published results of a study that found 19% of the sampled population had moderate to high dental anxiety. Dental practitioners are well aware of the clinical challenges posed by patient anxiety. But one situation in which its influence may be overlooked is during the informed consent process. Informed consent is an essential component of the treatment sequence as well as an ethical obligation of every practicing dentist. It rests on the ability of the professional to communicate effectively with the patient and on the capacity of the patient to understand and synthesize the relevant information. The ultimate goal is to allow the patient to arrive at an autonomous decision.
General dentists often perform many procedures on a tight schedule. This can inadvertently shift their priorities towards alleviating what feels like a disorganized day. When you’re pressed for time, noting whether a tooth has active decay or simply a stained but arrested cavitation may seem simple enough. But, in the context of documentation, it’s easy to forget just how crucial this information this can be in a court of law. In our rush to get into clinic, obtain a start check and finish a procedure in the allotted appointment time, many of us become guilty of failing to fully explain the contents of consent forms to patients. As a result, patients often do not fully understand what they’re signing for. Unfortunately, developing this bad habit early on in your dental career can have terrible consequences in private practice, especially when treatment complications arise that were not adequately explained to the patient from the very beginning.