Dr Tif Qureshi: Ethical Dentistry – An Origin Story

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Dr Tif Qureshi explores the origins and principals of ethical dentistry

Ethics is defined as the moral principles that influence a person’s behaviour.

Our formal understanding of ethics stretches back to the fifth century BC when Socrates recognised a need to awaken people to the principal of “rational criticism”, believing that various groups needed a more explicit code of conduct.

It seems that ethics are always called into question when societal structures begin to collapse. For instance, the demise of medieval feudalism ushered in the modern age of industrial democracy, the Age of Enlightenment in the 18th Century led to a surge in Romanticism, and philosophers such as Jean-Jacques Rousseau led revolts against political and religious "superstitions" while challenging people’s moral values and beliefs.

Returning to ancient Greece the philosopher Aristotle taught Virtue Theory, in other words that if people focus on being good then the right actions will follow, effortlessly. Aristotle described this as “proper functioning” which, he said, leads to a full and happy life.

Aristotle believed being virtuous meant doing the right thing at all times and that if you were virtuous, you would understand what that entails. It’s essentially as Goldilocks found with the three bears’ porridge: too much or too little equals extremism, but somewhere in the middle equals virtue.

Aristotle is also referred to as the grandfather of modern dentistry. He published experimental theories on the use of thin wire to straighten teeth, but not only did Aristotle propose ideas and theories that aided advances in dentistry but his Virtue Theory has also been applied to dentistry.

Within the dental profession, ethics underpins our moral duties and obligations towards patients. In the 21st Century all aspects of healthcare are framed by a strong ethical code of conduct. The GDC’s Standards for the Dental Team 1.4 states that you must take a holistic and preventative approach to patient care, while others state that patients must be respected and treated as individuals.

Ethical dentistry means ensuring patients are given a full and accurate diagnosis of their oral health and any problems must be made explicit, as well as making any fees clear, and ensuring that patients are generally well looked after and supported throughout any treatment procedure.

Unethical practice might see a patient who attends the clinic regularly left with a condition that is ignored or has treatment delayed until it gradually worsens and requires more expensive restorations, while at the other extreme recommending costly treatment a patient does not need would also be considered unethical, and might lead to detrimental outcomes for the patient in the future.

It is an unfortunate truth that ethical dilemmas can still arise in the practice. A survey revealed that out of 62 dentists more than 22% faced an ethical dilemma with treatment related issues, more than 14% felt a colleague had behaved financially unrealistically, and only 6.5% had no ethical problems. In conclusion, whether you follow Socrates’ and Aristotle’s precepts or not, it remains essential you do your personal best to ensure ethical practices are followed in your practice.


Dr Tif Qureshi is founder and clinical director of the IAS Academy. He qualified from Kings College London in 1992 and is a Past President of the BACD.

He adds: “There are avenues a dentist can take in order to preserve and grow their holistic approach to dentistry. The IAS Academy aims to train dentists to do the right thing by their patients every time, with tooth preservation at the core of our ethos.

“The Complete GDP course teaches dentists everything they need to know in order to provide each patient with treatment that is appropriate and ethical in order to achieve biologically stable, functional, and aesthetically pleasing outcomes.”

For more information about upcoming IAS Academy training courses, visit www.iasortho.com or call 01932 336470 (Press 1)