Dental Patient Rights
I got an email yesterday from a reader named Harris, who stated, "I paid $5000 to replace a broken crown. The dentist did not tell me what the cost would be until he had already started the procedure."
Harris wanted to know what kind of rights he had as a dental patient when you're not told the cost of dental treatment in advance. I told Harris that it is generally accepted that a dental patient has a right to know an estimate of the cost of a procedure before treatment begins.
I've received many other questions about dental patient rights in the past, and I thought that it would be a good time to discuss the rights of a dental patient. I have listed below what I believe to be 20 core rights that every dental patient deserves, and I'll probably use something similar to this as the patient bill of rights in my future dental practice.
Dental Patient Rights
Keep in mind that these are not legally-binding rights, although they are good recommendations for a dentist to establish a positive, successful relationship with his or her patients.
I have provided links to many other dental patient bill of rights at the end of the article if you want to take a deeper look into the world of dental patient rights.
The Right to Choose Your Dentist
You have a right to choose your own dentist. Many dentists have different philosophies regarding the best treatment and you have the right to choose the dentist with whom you feel most comfortable.
The Right to Quality Dental Treatment
You have a right to receive treatment that meets or exceeds the accepted dental standard of care.
The Right to Know the Education and Training of the Dental Team
You have a right to know about the education and qualifications of the entire dental team, including the dentist, dental hygienist, assistants, and staff. Many dental practices that believe in lots of continuing education post this information on their practice website.
Most states require that a dentist complete 15-25 continuing education "credits" every year. You can ask your dentist how many he or she has taken. Some dentists get by on the minimum, and other dentists take more courses than required.
The Right to a Clean Treatment Environment
The dental team should be using appropriate infection-control and sterilization techniques.
The Right to Confidential Treatment
You have the right to expect that no member of the dental team will discuss your treatment with anyone else unless you authorize it. This is a right granted under the HIPAA privacy rule.
The Right to Know the Cost of Treatment
You have the right to know how much treatment will cost before treatment begins. Sometimes we don’t know what we’ll find before we start working on a patient, so it can be difficult to give an exact fee.
If this is the case, the dentist should be able to provide you with an estimate of the fee based on the various outcomes and treatment options.
Curious about dental fees? Find the average dental fee in your area.
The Right to Know Why You Need Treatment
You have the right to know why treatment is necessary for your particular condition.
The Right to Know Treatment Risks
You have the right to know what risks are associated with treatment as well as the risks of not proceeding with treatment.
The Right to Know Treatment Alternatives
There’s more than one way to skin a cat — You have a right to know what other treatments are available that would also solve your dental problem as well as knowing how long the various treatment alternatives will last.
The Right to Decline Treatment
You have the right to decline treatment if you so desire. You also have a right to know what may occur if you choose not to accept the treatment that your dentist proposes.
The Right to Know Expected Treatment Results
You have the right to know what the expected outcome of your treatment will be.
The Right to Emergency Dental Treatment
You have the right to receive emergency treatment from your dentist within a reasonable time-frame. Many dentists set aside a certain amount of time each day to see emergencies.
The Right to Be Treated Respectfully
The dental team should treat you respectfully and considerately.
The Right to Not Be Discriminated Against
You have the right to not be discriminated against. You should receive quality treatment no matter your ethnicity, sex, religion, disability, or age.
The Right to See the Dentist at Every Visit
You have a right to see the dentist every time you receive dental treatment. Different states have varying laws regarding this, and thus you can clarify this with your dental office if you wish to see the dentist at every visit.
The Right to Know How to Resolve Disputes
You have the right to know what actions you can take to resolve any disputes that might arise between you and your dentist. There are many ways to resolve disputes with your dentist.
The Right to Timely Dental Treatment
If a dentist accepts you as a patient, you have a right to expect that you can make appointments in a timely manner and not have to wait many months before receiving treatment.
Keep in mind that sometimes this is beyond the dentist’s control. For example, if you require IV sedation or anesthesia in a hospital setting, it may take a long time to schedule your appointment so that you can have all of the health professionals available to provide you with safe, effective treatment.
The Right to a Conversation With Your Dental Team Regarding Your Treatment
You have a right to receive answers to any questions that you may have regarding your current oral health status and your proposed treatment.
You also have the right to discuss any concerns you may have regarding the proposed treatment.
The Right to Your Dental Records
You have the right to have your dental records and x-rays transferred to another dentist of your choice either for free or for a nominal fee.
Learn more about how to get a copy of your dental records.
The Right to Reasonable Accommodations for Your Disability
If you have a disability, you have a right to expect your dentist to make reasonable accommodations. For example, I have treated patients in their wheel chair when they are unable to move themselves into our clinical dental chairs.
Dental Patient Rights Available Online
There are a number of dental patient bill of rights available online. My dental school and the ADA have made copies of their dental patient bill of rights available on the internet. Here's a few:
- The American Dental Association's Patient Rights (PDF)
- The California Dental Association's Patient Bill of Rights
- Marquette University School of Dentistry Patient's Rights & Responsibilities
- University of Iowa College of Dentistry Patient Rights and Responsibilities
- West Virginia School of Dentistry Patient Rights and Responsibilities
- Boston University School of Dental Medicine Patients' Rights and Responsibilities
It's interesting to note how Boston University's dental patient rights differs from the other schools' since they are a private university and appear to be more selective at accepting patients.
Questions About Dental Patient Rights?
Do you have any questions regarding your rights as a dental patient? Leave them in the comments section below and I'll do my best to answer them.
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