Safeguarding the dentist-patient relationship

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  Posted by: Dental Design      26th March 2024

Excellent communication allows dentist-patient relationships to be built on trust. Clinicians know to put this into effect every day, hoping it will make a difference in oral hygiene routines and improve the lives of everyone in the dental chair.

A key aspect of the relationship between a patient and your practice is safety, and the ethical responsibilities surrounding it. This doesn’t only entail the most fundamental general principle in healthcare – “First, do no harm” ­– but includes a patient’s greater rights and expectations of privacy, respect and professionalism from their dentist.

If practices can safely navigate the moral requirements of modern dentistry, patients have the opportunity to receive excellent, reliable care that is suited appropriately to their personal needs.

What is ethical dentistry?

It’s important for all members of the dental practice team to completely understand their moral obligations when providing effective healthcare to patients in need. The public expects dental professionals to carry out their daily work with integrity and confidentiality,[i] and it is upon this assumption that patients can build their trust in a practice.

Guidance on the approach required of dental professionals is available from a variety of sources, with the General Dental Council (GDC) setting the benchmark for care in the UK. As would be expected, the standards set by the GDC and similar authoritative bodies have changed with time, most notably with the advent of the internet and digital solutions altering everyday life drastically.

It’s important to consider how your practice interacts with current and prospective patients, and how the unspoken expectations of the profession are held up. Failure to meet these requirements could damage the faith in your practice, and embroil you in a variety of complex legal challenges, too.

Trust in your judgement

Today’s digital age has prompted many practices to establish an online ‘brand’ to reach new patients and other clinicians. This modern approach requires careful management, to accurately represent your services without creating conflicts of interest.

An increasingly useful way to promote to new audiences is with the help of social media influencers. These individuals may have great sway in local communities, or help you create a larger reach. Engaging with an audience in this way develops trust and credibility,[ii] as prospective patients look to a familiar source of advice and place their assurances in the healthcare provider, by association.

To properly develop the relationship between patients and the practice, there must be an element of transparency. Whether the influencer writes an article, posts an Instagram story or creates a TikTok video singing your praises, if they had been paid or receive a service in return, it must be identified as an advert to the audience upfront. The practice may share the influencer’s content, but the onus is still on the individual to clearly state it is an advertisement. Without clearly identifying this, patients may be misled, breaching consumer protection law and industry advertising rules.[iii]

Clinicians must not be impacted by a push for certain treatments when a patient visits, and should only recommend the relevant treatments that are in the patient’s best interests.[iv] To do otherwise would suggest there is a personal incentive for the clinician or practice to benefit from, casting extreme doubt on the ethical nature of the treatment.

An unspoken rule

 Another level of the dentist-patient relationship relies very little on communication at all. Whilst patients expect their dentist to communicate professionally and clearly, or not use their treatments as a method for personal gain, they may not have considered the often-unspoken requirement for privacy.

Both in person and online, dental practices must act to protect their patients’ information. People have to give over a large degree of information to their practice, and as such, confidentiality is fundamental. This includes personal details, medical history, current healthcare treatments and their associated costs.[v]

In the digital age, to fulfil this trust, dental practices must be able to safely store and protect all kinds of patient documents – and ensure they are kept private. Under the Data Protection Act 2018, patients can expect that their information is kept up-to-date, and protected against unlawful and unauthorised processing, access, loss, destruction or damage.[vi] By acting appropriately on these requirements, the dental practice can meet the expectations of trust that are ever-important in the dentist-patient relationship.

Communicating ethically and safely with patients is essential, and trusting professional relationships could thrive with Patient Bridge, a Sensei product. The platform enhances communication with patients through automated messaging, improved marketing campaigns and the possibility to complete pre-appointment forms before reaching the practice. Importantly, Patient Bridge is hosted in super-secure Microsoft Azure UK data centres, audited and accredited by the NHS, to protect patient information and maintain your clinical trust. It is available for both Sensei Cloud and R4+ to perfectly meet your practice’s needs.

Trust is often difficult to build, but once established, a practice should do everything to protect and nurture it. By understanding the ethical requirements placed upon clinicians, the appropriate measures can be put in place to help patients find optimal healthcare, safely.

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[i] General Dental Council, (2014). Standards for the Dental Team. (Online) Available at: [Accessed October 2023]

[ii] Bajaj, H., Ahluwalia, R., Kaur, P., & Chugh, T. (2022). The Art Of Influence In Dental Marketing. Journal of Pharmaceutical Negative Results, 1878-1882.

[iii] Competition & Markets Authority, (2022). Hidden ads: Being clear with your audience. (Online) Available at: [Accessed October 2023]

[iv] General Dental Council, (N.D.) Focus on Standards, Principle One, Put patients’ interests first. (Online) Availabale at: [Accessed October 2023]

[v] General Dental Council, (N.D.) Focus on Standards, Principle Four, Maintain and protect patients’ information. (Online) Available at: [Accessed October 2023]

[vi] GOV.UK, (N.D.) Data Protection. (Online) Available at: [Accessed October 2023]

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