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The Rights and Responsibilities of Dental Patients

Posted Nov 22nd, 2022 in 2022, the wire, thought leadership

Elaine Powell, Senior Director, Regulatory Compliance; Jaime Robertson, Director, Regulatory Compliance; Kiran Madesha, Legal Advisor, Compliance 

Because of the special relationship that exists between a healthcare provider and a patient, dental practices must be dedicated to the well-being of their patients. The duty of healthcare providers obligates the entire dental office team to treat patients with dignity. Unlike the transactional relationships that may exist in non-healthcare retail sectors, clinicians and team members are legally required to enable their patients to act as active participants in their oral healthcare treatment. Furthermore, healthcare businesses have an obligation to know their patients. Each patient has unique medical history and dental care needs. A patient’s treatment plans are dictated not by what the dentist or dental hygienist thinks is best but by the patient’s values, desires, and abilities, as well as an assessment or diagnosis designed to accommodate each patient’s unique wishes and needs.  
It is important that patients (and in some cases, their parents or legal guardians) know what to expect from their dental care team and understand the vital role they play. Only through actively engaging patients can high-quality oral health care exist. A perfectly executed crown-supported denture on a patient who does not want or need it is not fine craftsmanship; it’s an ethical breach. Conversely, a patient who trusts their dentist and feels safe in a dental office will accept more of their clinician’s treatment recommendations.  
The points listed below are intended to guide patients and their healthcare providers through the development of a successful and collaborative relationship.  
Each patient has the right to: 

  • Receive quality oral health care services in a safe environment. 
  • Obtain equitable care and services, regardless of individual differences, including ethnicity, spirituality, language, lifestyle, and culture.  
  • Be treated with respect, courtesy, and sensitivity.  
  • Be fully informed of their oral health condition, diagnosis, treatment options, and prognosis in a way that they can understand so that they are able to give informed consent. 
  • Ask questions and seek clarification about the care, services, or treatments available and the risks and benefits of treatment. This includes understanding the consequences of treatment refusal. 
  • Be accompanied by a person of their choice when they wish to obtain information or initiate a process involving care or services provided.  
  • Refuse any care, services, or treatments suggested, except in certain limited circumstances where an emergency may arise.  
  • Have their dental records treated as confidential and accessed only by people who need to know.  
  • Privacy and to express their concerns about any matter regarding the confidentiality of their personal information.  
  • Request amendments to and obtain information on disclosures of their health information in accordance with laws and regulations.  
  • Ask questions about the cost of treatment, services, lab expenses, methods and schedules of accepted payment, and accepted insurers.  
This list above is not exhaustive but highlights some of the rights that every patient has when they come into a clinic for oral healthcare treatment. 
It comes as no surprise to anyone working in healthcare to know that patients have rights. Something that is perhaps less discussed is the responsibilities every patient has to ensure that their clinician can provide the appropriate treatment and services. Indeed, the quality of care a patient receives depends significantly on the actions and behaviours of the patient themselves. The patient has to show up at their appointment, consent to treatment, follow pre- and post-operative instructions, adhere to home hygiene instructions, and communicate any desires, questions, or concerns they may have. Another way to frame this concept is that a patient’s rights are balanced by their responsibilities. Every patient has responsibilities to ensure effective and appropriate care and to treat their clinician and all team members with a spirit of mutual trust and respect.  
These responsibilities include but are not limited to:  
  • Collaborating with the dental team in the assessment and improvement of their oral health condition and providing relevant information about their values, needs, and beliefs.  
  • Providing correct and complete information about their health (dental or medical history, illnesses, hospitalizations, medication, etc.) that may influence the care, services, and treatment they receive. They must also notify their dentist, specialist, or oral health care team of any changes in their health condition.  
  • Following the treatment plan as established and agreed to with their dentist, specialist, or oral health care team, and asking questions if they do not understand the planned treatment or how to follow it.  
  • Keeping their appointments or providing timely notice of cancelation. 
  • Being respectful of the rights, privacy, property, and diversity of staff, other patients, and their families. This includes treating others with respect and behaving in a non-threatening manner toward them. Any form of violence, discrimination, or harassment is unacceptable. 
  • Respecting the privacy of other patients and their families, as well as the privacy of visitors and staff. 
  • Paying invoices as soon as reasonably possible.  
As oral healthcare providers, we need to honour our patients' rights and help them with their responsibilities. Every dental office should have a practice philosophy that identifies the patients’ rights and responsibilities. If a practice is to be healthy and sustainable over the long term, that philosophy must be embraced by all staff and clearly understood by their patients. Consider providing copies of a patient’s rights and responsibilities document to each patient in advance of administering treatment and again when discontinuing patient care. Many of the world’s most sophisticated healthcare organizations, such as the Cleveland Clinic do just that.  
Originally published in Oral Health journal. 


About the Authors

Elaine Powell is the Senior Director of Regulatory Compliance at dentalcorp. She is an oral health care professional with over 40 years of experience in general, periodontal, and orthodontic dentistry practices. Elaine graduated as a Dental Therapist in London, UK, and later became a Registered Dental Hygienist in Canada. 
Jaime Robertson has worked in oral healthcare for over 26 years in various capacities, including two decades of clinical dental hygiene practice. In her current role as Director, Regulatory Compliance at dentalcorp, she supports practice teams in all aspects of compliance to help promote a safety culture. 
Kiran Madesha is a licensed lawyer with the Law Society of Ontario and works on dentalcorp’s Compliance team as a Legal Advisor. Kiran holds a Bachelor of Laws degree from the University of Liverpool and a Master of Laws degree with a concentration in Health Law from the University of Toronto. 


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