The reality is that
many patients simply open their mouth and accept whatever
treatment the dentist provides with very little enquiry
or understanding as to what is being done to them. Some
dentists assume that patients are content to accept whatever
treatment the dentist wishes to carry out as the ‘dentist
knows best’, and some patients do prefer this – until
the treatment goes wrong that is.
The patient must understand the basic nature of the procedure
to be carried – for example, what does the dentist
mean by root canal treatment? – and the patient must
be told the advantages and disadvantages of the treatment
that the dentist is recommending, compared to other treatments
that might also be possible. Dentistry can be different
from medicine and surgery, in that often there are a number
of different ways of treating a particular dental problem.
So the dental patient must understand all the alternative
treatments and be able to choose sensibly between them.
Some dentists might say that the dentist should make the
decision as to which treatment option is best for the patient
as a patient cannot be expected to understand the technicalities
of dental treatment. Of course the dentist is the technical
expert and not the patient, but it is after all the patient’s
body that is being operated upon and so it is the patient
who should make the final decision as to what treatment
is performed, not the dentist. The dentist must give the
patient enough accurate information to make this decision.
The dentist must not down-play the risks of treatment and
must not discuss other treatments in such a way as to persuade
a patient to accept the dentist’s preferred choice
Signing a consent form does not mean that the dentist can
carry out any treatment he likes. You still have to understand
all the treatments that could have been done and choose
A child of any age can agree to dental treatment as long
as they understand the nature of the treatment and its
consequences – even if the child’s parents
or guardian refuses the treatment. If however a child
under 18 refuses dental treatment then a parent or guardian
can authorize the dental treatment despite the child’s
reluctance to undergo the treatment.
If someone does not have the mental capacity to understand
the treatment that a dentist recommends then the dentist
can carry out the treatment anyway as long as it is in
the patient’s best interest.