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 Table of Contents    
Year : 2016  |  Volume : 6  |  Issue : 2  |  Page : 53-55
Dental duality

Department of Public Health Dentistry, Faculty of Dental Sciences, Sri Ramachandra University, Chennai, Tamil Nadu, India

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Date of Web Publication11-Jan-2018


Can dentistry be labeled as a profession or a commercial business? This is a significant and thought-provoking question that lingers on in the minds of many, often jeopardizing our profession's image among the public. The question, however, is ironically akin to being two sides of the same coin, but what assumes priority puts forward the concept of dental ethics. Hence, is dentistry a profession/business? The answer may be both, but the question lies as to, what is being given more weightage? Every dentist's chief motive should be to benefit the patient, with the financial rewards being only secondary. This is where our dental ethics comes into play. The label “profession” is cherished because it suggests a special social status. Hence, the question arises as to what exactly is meant when dentists claim to be professionals and more importantly whether they can justifiably lay claim to this label.

Keywords: Business, dentistry, duality, ethics, profession

How to cite this article:
Ada K S, Ganesh A, Manohar R. Dental duality. J Educ Ethics Dent 2016;6:53-5

How to cite this URL:
Ada K S, Ganesh A, Manohar R. Dental duality. J Educ Ethics Dent [serial online] 2016 [cited 2021 Apr 19];6:53-5. Available from: https://www.jeed.in/text.asp?2016/6/2/53/223002

   Is Dentistry a Business or a Profession? Top

A very appropriate and relevant question in the present scenario, the answer to this perplexed question is, it is both. The professions dichotomy that is its simultaneous existence as both a health-care profession and a small business creates a sense of apprehension between the dentist and the general public. Apprehension, because there is always the very real danger that our need to make a living as a dentist would compromise the decisions we make about providing genuine oral health care for our patients. In the urge to be more financially satisfied, we would modify their treatment plan according to our wants and needs.[1]

“Ethics is knowing the difference between what you have a right to do and what is right to do.”

-Potter Stewart

   Professionalism Top

Medical professionalism signifies a set of values, behaviors, and relationships that underpins the trust the public have in doctors (Royal College of Physicians - 2005).

Dental professionalism comprises high levels of expertise, skillfulness, virtuousness, and trustworthiness as well as social status and market value.[2]

For dentistry to be considered a profession, it lies in the hands of the professionals. An occupation cannot simply claim professional status; the status must be granted by the public. If you wanted to be recognized as a dental professional, then you must conduct yourself as one, otherwise you run the risk of assuming the title without accepting the obligations.[2]

   Who Is a Professional? Top

  • Respect for patients
  • Prioritize patient's interests
  • Integrity, honesty, and competency
  • Primary concern is service not prestige nor profit
  • A professional is ethical.

The above-mentioned qualities are the ones that qualify any dentist to be a true professional. The most fundamental point to keep in mind is to place the patients priority, need, and requirement primary and to provide the best possible service to his beneficiary.[3]


Ethics is the philosophy of human conduct, a way of stating and evaluating principles by which problems of behavior can be solved.[3],[4]

Dental ethics would mean duties and obligations of the dentist toward his patients, professional colleagues, and the society.[3]

“When I do good, I feel good; when I do bad, I feel bad. That's my religion.”

-Abraham Lincoln

   American Dental Association Principles of Ethics-1996 Top

Service to the public and quality of care

The dentist's primary obligation is service to the public. The competent and timely delivery of quality care with due consideration being given to the needs and desires of the patient are the most important aspects.


The privilege of the dentist being accorded professional status rests primarily in the skill, knowledge, and experience with which they serve their patients and society.

Government of a profession

Dentists have the dual obligation of making themselves a part of a professional society and of observing the rules of ethics.

Research and development

Dentists have the obligation of making their results and benefits of their investigative efforts available to all.


No dentist shall advertise or solicit patients in any form of communication that is false or misleading in any material aspect.[5]

   American Dental Association Principles of Ethics-2005 Top


To do no harm is considered to be the foundation of social morality. The dentist's primary obligations include keeping knowledge and skills current, knowing one's own limitations, and when to refer to a specialist, knowing when and under what circumstances delegation of patient care to auxiliaries is possible.


The dentist has a duty to promote the patient's welfare. To do good to the patient is required of all health-care providers. It should be the role of the dentists to benefit patients as well as to not inflict harm.

Respect for persons

Autonomy and informed consent are the two fundamental ethical considerations. The dentist has a duty to respect the patient's rights to self-determination and confidentiality.


It is the duty of every dentist to treat his patients irrespective of class, creed, social status, etc. This principle expresses the concept that professionals have a duty to be fair in their dealings with patients, colleagues, and society.

“I am only one, but still I am one. I cannot do everything, But still I can do something; But because I cannot do everything I will not refuse to do something that I can do.”

-Edward Everett Hale


The patient–doctor relationship is based on trust. The dentist has a duty to communicate truthfully. Veracity is an ethical concept that one would expect to go unquestioned. Professionals have a duty to be honest and trustworthy in their dealings with patients.


Patients have the right to expect that all communications and records pertaining to their care will be treated confidential. Dental professionals have a legal and ethical duty to keep patient's information confidential.[4],[6]

   Dentistry as a Form of Business Top

A business is an organization or economic system where goods and services are exchanged among one another for money.

In today's date, dentistry is being viewed from the public's eyes as a mere money making business. The primary concern and chief motive of every dentist should be service to the patient with financial compensation to the service being only secondary. The patient is supposed to be the primary beneficiary of the service with the dentist only being the secondary beneficiary.[2]

   Unethical Practises in Dentistry Top

  • Advertising - Advertising either directly or indirectly for the purpose of obtaining patients or promoting his own professional relation is unethical. Dentists must avoid placing advertisements that are false and misleading [7]
  • Promise of radical long-term cure with a failure to do so - A dentist should not make any long-term promises to a patient which he may fail to fulfill [7]
  • Employing any agent or canvasser for the purpose of obtaining patients is an unethical form of dental practice.[7] The best and the most impactful way of gaining patients is always word-of-mouth recommendations by satisfied patients
  • Allowing the dentist's name to be used in commercial products such as toothpaste, toothbrush, mouthwash [8]
  • Over servicing - Over servicing or the acceptance of unnecessary, inappropriate excessive, or fraudulent treatment constitutes unethical conduct and a breach of the integrity of the profession.[9]

   Conclusion Top

Dentistry cannot be viewed as a mere business deal, and it is a respectable profession with ethical principles. Every dentist holds the responsibility of being a true professional, but business cannot be left aside as we live in a competitive world where every day is a race to the finish line with “survival of only the fittest.” With liberalization and globalization, the dental profession has come under great pressure, where everyone strives to be the best, leaving behind what it takes to reach that spot. Hence, let's open our eyes and view our profession dentistry as an “ethical business” where we learn to balance both in an unbiased manner. Hence, let's strive in making dentistry an ethical profession and dentists, ethical professionals.

Financial support and sponsorship


Conflicts of interest

There are no conflicts of interest.

   References Top

Graham BS. Is Dentistry a Business or a Profession? Available from: http://www.oralhealthgroup.com. [Last accessed on 2005 Sep 01].  Back to cited text no. 1
Welie JV. Is dentistry a profession? Part 1. Professionalism defined. J Can Dent Assoc 2004;70:529-32.  Back to cited text no. 2
American College of Dentists, American Dental Association. Ethics Handbook for Dentists. Maryland: American College of Dentists; 2012.  Back to cited text no. 3
Soben P. Essentials of Public Health Dentistry. 5th ed. New Delhi: Arya Medi Publishing House; 2014.  Back to cited text no. 4
ADA Principles of Ethics; 1996. Available from: http://www.ethics.iit.edu. [Last accessed on 2017 Jan 15].  Back to cited text no. 5
ADA Principles of Ethics; 2005. Available from: http://www.ada.org. [Last accessed on 2017 Jan 15].  Back to cited text no. 6
Mathur S, Chopra R. Ethical issues in modern day dental practice. Online J Health Ethics 2013;8:4-10.  Back to cited text no. 7
Trathen A, Gallagher JE. Dental professionalism: Definition and debate. Br Dent J 2009;206:249-53.  Back to cited text no. 8
Hartshorne J, Hasegawa TK Jr. Overservicing in dental practice – Ethical perspectives. SADJ 2003;58:364-9.  Back to cited text no. 9

Correspondence Address:
Dr. Akila Ganesh
7/16, First Main Road, Srinivasa Nagar, Kolathur, Chennai - 600 099, Tamil Nadu
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/jeed.jeed_13_17

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