Ethics in dental hygiene

Dental hygienists will face ethical dilemmas at some point in their careers. When tough decisions need to be made on behalf of our patients, we need the tools to do it. As professionals, we need be familiar with the code of ethics to help guide our behavior.

May 21st, 2014
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Patients expect to be cared for by knowledgeable, ethical professionals. They assume that the “professionalism” of the provider would include essential values (which have been defined by the American Dental Education Association as competence, fairness, integrity, responsibility, respect, and service-mindedness), so how can one profess to be a professional without honoring these essential values? Unfortunately, some healthcare providers are lacking these elements.

TheADHA Code of Ethics helps to set the standards of behavior every dental hygienist should be following. The core values of the code include:

Autonomy: To guarantee self-determination of the patient
Confidentiality: To hold in confidence or secret information entrusted by the patient
Societal trust: To ensure the trust that patients and society have in dental hygienists
Nonmaleficence: To do no harm to the patient
Beneficence: To benefit the patient
Justice and Fairness: To be fair to the patient
Veracity: To tell the truth; not to lie to the patient

As a dental hygienist, we shouldn't need to be reminded to behave ethically. It is simply understanding the difference between right and wrong, and always choosing right. The ADHA Code of Ethics reinforces the conduct we should always adhere to.

RELATED: Ethical decision making

Dental hygienists will face ethical dilemmas at some point in their careers. When tough decisions need to be made on behalf of our patients, we need the tools to do it. As professionals, we need be familiar with the code of ethics to help guide our behavior.

When deciding to care for the public, it is understood that rights and responsibilities come with it. Legal and ethical standards should be followed. There is a duty that all healthcare providers have to the public. In Ethics and Law in Dental Hygiene, the author writes, “Society recognizes that health care providers, by virtue of their education and special skills, are held to a higher standard.” It does not end the day a license is issued by the state. Practicing the values of professionalism, as defined by the ADEA, remind the practitioner of the commitment they have pledged to uphold. Patients should expect nothing less than the best of care from any healthcare professional.

One might assume that some of the values expressed above would be innate or part of a person's character. In essence, they are all behaviors of professionalism that are taught to us at some point in our lives. Parents, teachers, and mentors all have had a hand in the values that have shaped our professionalism. Being presented with dilemmas and life experiences have helped to perhaps test some of those values. As an experienced dental hygienist, I believe experiences have only strengthened my values. They have given me the confidence to make better decisions.

Practicing to become a healthcare provider doesn't end on graduation day. It is a life-long commitment of learning. It is our duty to maintain our skills and continue our education. Practicing the values of professionalism throughout our careers will help us to maintain the high standards society expects from us. Quite frankly, they are the high standards we should always expect of ourselves.

Ann Marie Manookian, RDH, BASDH, graduated with her bachelor’s degree in dental hygiene in 2013 after working as an RDH for 17 years. She lives in Staten Island with her husband Michael.

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