Choosing An Ethical Path in Dentistry

October 4, 2021

Dr.Mary Jane Hanlon

Senior Vice-President, School and Student Services




One of the top reasons dentists are required to go through remediation is because they chose to do something that may cross the gray line of ethical vs. unethical.

Let’s review ethics and its impact on the field of dentistry.  First, though, let’s review some basic principles of ethics.  The term ethics is derived from the Greek word "ethos," which means habit or custom. It is a division of philosophy concerned with how a person should behave in a morally correct or good manner. It examines what makes something "good" vs. "bad." It is a mode of living one's life.  

As humans, we are aware of our existence and mortality, and we have higher functions that give us the ability to reason. Morality is about the good-bad duality as it refers to a code or the rules in which actions are judged against how they stack up to shared values. Ethics refers to the rules that form those moral codes and seeks to determine how and why one should behave in a virtuous way. Ethics is about doing the right thing even when it may be uncomfortable. By choosing to do the right thing, that choice benefits the individual and society in a fair, just, and kind manner.  

Humanity needs structure to make sense of the world. We attempt to unlock the order of things and categorize the information as we learn. If knowledge defines the "what" of the Universe, then certainly, philosophy is the attempt to unlock the "why." 


  • Acting ethically is a requirement for life. To survive and thrive, it helps us determine the best ways to act so that each of us may live a long and productive life.  

  • Acting ethically is a requirement for society. To be a member of society in good standing, one must follow the codes and laws that govern that culture. Everyone has a role to play, and if those roles break down, the happiness of others is threatened. Ethics helps us to build relationships. Kindness does matter - it helps us forge the bonds that unite all of us.  

  • Acting ethically is followed by some for religious purposes. This part of the study of ethics is called divine command theory—people who subscribe to this type of ethics follow the rules set forth by organized religion.  

  • Acting ethically for self-interest. Some believe humans ultimately act out of self-service - that they do things with their own interests in mind. The "Golden Rule" and Karma are examples of how being "good" can be a self-serving pursuit. Good things will happen to a person that is kind.  

With this basic review of ethics, it becomes apparent that those that do make choices to cross the line ethically will have a negative impact on others:  

  • Their team because they may understand the choice and feel uncomfortable about the position, they are being placed in.  
  • Their patients because the impact of that choice may cause harm to them in the long run.  

As a professional, we have taken an oath “to do no harm” which means our choices should always be in the best interest of others before ourselves.  Choosing to do what is “right” ultimately leads to greater satisfaction and better outcomes not only in your dental practice, but for society as a whole.  

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