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New addition to ADA Code of Conduct provides guidance in response to pandemic

CEBJA: Dentists should balance ethical obligations to patient, public at large  

Dentists have ethical obligations to not only provide care for patients but also serve the public at large, especially during a public health crisis like the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a new advisory opinion approved by the ADA Council on Ethics, Bylaws and Judicial Affairs in late November.

The advisory opinion is included in the updated ADA Principles of Ethics and Code of Professional Conduct.

Titled “Elective and Non-Emergent Procedures during a Public Health Emergency,” the advisory opinion provides guidance on the analysis that needs to be performed during a widespread health emergency that is aimed at balancing the ethical obligations a dentist owes an individual patient and the public at large.

As was experienced during the early days of the pandemic last spring, those obligations may be in conflict, said Robert Wilson, D.D.S., chair of the council.

“The early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic presented public health risks that were readily apparent to the dental profession and the ADA,” Dr. Wilson said. “It was clear that our ethical obligations to the public at large gained greater importance than perhaps any time in the modern history of our profession. The pandemic forced dentists to shift their attention from the patient in our operatory to the entire community while never neglecting the best interest of our patients.”