Dental Ethics

Post your comments about ethics in dentistry to our blog.

In our most recent survey, we asked: What do you do when you see a patient who’s had terrible work done by another dentist?


The clear majority of dentists avoid criticizing the work of other dentists. Professional courtesy seems to override other concerns. Unfortunately, it’s not entirely clear if that’s based on doctors’ ethical standards or on fear of lawyers and possible legal repercussions. Either way, dentists try not to bad-mouth their colleagues’ work.

  • 69% of our respondents said, “You keep your mouth shut out of respect to your dental colleagues. You don’t know the whole story, and it’s not ethical to bash another doctor’s work.”
  • 31% said, “Your primary obligation is to your patient. If their previous dental work was bad, they deserve to know, and it’s your job to tell them.”

The results are clear: Two out of three dentists won’t criticize the patient’s previous dentist.


Read the dentists’ comments for more insight into their thoughts.

The more urban dentists are more likely to keep quiet.


There reason for this may in fact be lawyers. Urban dentists (and, to a lesser extent, suburban dentists) may be more sensitive to the possible legal issues that could arise from criticizing another doctor’s work.


Female dentists were less likely to criticize the work of their colleagues than were men. (Yet another example of women being more tactful and polite than their male counterparts?)


There was very little difference in responses between general dentists and specialists.


For more insight into what our respondents are thinking, check out their comments!

It’s not the dentist’s place to bad-mouth other dentists

  • “It’s convenient to criticize the work of others. No one is perfect (only God is!), there are many factors out of the doctor’s control (we all know what those are), and what comes around goes around…” (periodontist, suburban Massachusetts)
  • “I rarely badmouth another dentist – less than 10 times in 30 years. I do not know the circumstances of the situation under which the work was done. If I believe there is incompetence or endangering the public, I will take action. But, as a rule, the patient is in my office because they are unhappy with their previous dentist.” (suburban Virginia)
  • “If a bunch of stuff needs to be replaced, then you have to tell the patient why. I don’t think it is professional to bash someone else – it does no good for the other doc, the patient or yourself… Done tactfully, everyone comes out ahead.” (urban Florida)
  • “Often if you bad mouth another and come up with an expensive plan, the patient may think ill of you. You need to get their trust first.&quot (suburban Pennsylvania)
  • “Corrective procedures can be done without bashing another dentist or accusing the patient of neglect or misuse. The ideal situation would be to help the patient without bashing the previous dentist or the patient.” (suburban California)
  • “You should not blame anybody else because all that is speculation.” (urban California)
  • “You can get your point across diplomatically. ‘He who slings mud loses ground. ‘” (Rural Maine)
  • “My best today is better than my best was yesterday. Unfortunately, not all of us are pursuing clinical excellence, but I give my colleagues the benefit of the doubt.” (suburban Indiana)

What about their previous dentist?

  • “If the dental work is bad, it is bad. I have redone work by another dentist at no charge to the patient. It is not out of respect to other dental colleagues but because I don’t know the whole story. Cosmetic dentists are the worst offenders of bad-mouthing other dentists. They imply other dentist do ugly dentistry.” (suburban Kansas)
  • “This must be tempered by good judgment; discussing the case with the previous dentist is always a good idea, and possibly having the state peer review committee get involved can help.” (rural Arizona)
  • “You just have to do it in a tactful manner without disparaging the other dentist. I quite often offer to send the other dentist a
    letter with my findings.” (suburban California)
  • “Either refer the patient back to have the work corrected, or call the dentist and advise him of the problems and give him a chance to correct it.” (suburban California)
  • “I advise patients to see their previous dentist to have them ‘check’ the treatment and allow them the opportunity to rectify the
    situation. If the dentist doesn’t want to do this or they don’t want to see their previous dentist, then I tactfully explain that there treatment needs to be corrected. But I don’t bash the other dentist because I realize that there are unusual circumstances that can make treatment results less than perfect.” (rural Arkansas)

The patient does have a right to know what’s in his or her mouth

  • “The patient has a right to be informed of the conditions found in his mouth. The dentist, however, should not volunteer comments about the previous dentist.” (rural Kentucky)
  • “I never criticize. You were not there. But the patient needs to know if there is a problem.” (urban Texas)
  • “It really depends on how bad the work is. If it is obviously messed, then the patient has the right to know. If the patient asks (which they never do), then you have to tell the truth.” (urban California)
  • “The patient needs to know, but also care needs to be taken that untrue accusations are not made about the other dentist.” (suburban Texas)
  • “I don’t like to say bad things about other people’s dentistry, but if it is failing and I don’t say anything, I’m as much on the hook for it as the original provider.” (rural Colorado)
  • “Your primary obligation is to the patient to tell them if there is a problem. This can always be done without bashing the other entist.&quot (suburban Missouri)

Unless you were there, you don’t know the whole story

  • “Another option would be to say, ‘I wasn’t there, but it appears that I would have done things differently.’ I suggest people in glass houses not throw stones!” (urban Texas)
  • “I will answer with an experience I once had. A patient presented for examination and I found what I perceived as a ‘poorly restored’ tooth: recurrent decay, ragged amalgam extruding from the preparation, poor carving on the amalgam. This was a definite re-do. I was dismayed that a member of our profession would do such shoddy work. I said nothing and went to work on the tooth. After restoring the tooth, I was amazed that the other dentist had done as good a job as he/she did. Lots of saliva, grunts & groans & head movements (from the patient), constricted work space, tongue-from-hell, Murphy’s Law, you name it. Everything conspired to make me consider other careers! My vote? Walk a mile in the other dentist’s shoes before you judge their work.” (suburban North Carolina)
  • “Unfortunately, I think too many of us are quick to judge others’ work. However, we weren’t there and don’t know the circumstances. I have seen a dentist criticize another’s work (which wasn’t ideal); however, this dentist redid the work only to have his look exactly the same on the x-ray… I feel more at ease telling the patient the facts when their mouth is full of poor work from another country. I think most dentists in the US really care about the quality of their work and really do their level best…” (suburban North Carolina)

Lawyers are now part of the equation

  • “Lots of lawyers! You can no longer be truthful or you will pay, and no one in organized dentistry will back you up. You must be careful what you say – political correctness has gone wild.” (suburban New Jersey)

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