Dentists disliked, but trusted

Let us begin with a brutally honest comment: most would agree that the dentist’s office is not their favourite place to be.  It’s not that patients don’t like their dentist as a person; but frankly, there are a hundred other places that they would rather be.  And yet, when populations are surveyed about which vocations and professions they trust the most (and least), dentists typically rank very high on the list of most trusted professionals.

It is important to take a moment to try and understand why these two truths co-exist. There are many possible explanations, but these can be readily crystallized into two important generalizations. For one, dentistry as a career tends to attract individuals who are caring, compassionate and set very high standards for themselves. And second, most jurisdictions have a code of ethics which dentists must follow as a condition of their continued licensure.

In Ontario, the body which grants licenses to practice to dentists is the Royal College of Dental Surgeons of Ontario (RCDSO).  The mandate of the RCDSO is to protect the public, and as such they are granted authority to set and maintain the high standards for the profession. They carry out this mandate by tracking the continuing education of dentists, by dealing with complaints from the public and through disciplinary actions in the event of professional misconduct.

The RCDSO also is responsible for the current Code of Ethics for dentists practicing in the province of Ontario, and this code can be viewed on the RCDSO website (rcdso.org). There are 15 principles within the Code of Ethics, but they can be summarized in the five core ethical values of integrity, fairness, beneficence, compassion and respect for patient autonomy.

Fortunately, the vast majority of dentists in Ontario are highly skilled and caring professionals who embrace the Code of Ethics. This is born out by the fact that, when considering the number of dental visits which take place in the province in any given year, the number of complaints received by the college annually is a very tiny percentage. In the words of the RCDSO, “The ethical behaviour of dentists is one of the most important factors in the promotion of quality dental care and recognition of dentists as professionals.”

The ethical behavior of dentists also is the basis of the trust relationship between a dentist and a patient, and explains why so many patients have a long term association with their dentist, sometimes spanning 20 to 30 years or more.

Perhaps the public does like us a little bit … However, we can still agree that there are at least a hundred other places that you would rather be. It’s just that when you do need us, you are grateful for the excellent care you get from your dentist of choice.

Dr. Allan Katchky is a dentist who practises in the East End 416-694-2220


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