The ethics of aesthetics – A new debate

Dissecting the debateIn 2011, an age of extraordinary advances in dentistry, we can look with pride at the advances made in the products and services we are now able to offer patients, and see how far we’ve progressed.

A dentist is no longer the ‘tooth drawer’ of the 1500s, nor even the same practitioner he or she was a mere twenty or thirty years ago. The dentist of today can not only treat painful diseases, but can also transform a smile the patient is thinks is unsightly.

If a patient said that they didn’t like their smile, should the dentist reply: “Yes, but your teeth are fine,” seeing the absence of disease and nothing else?

Perhaps instead they should offer to remedy that with cosmetic procedures; in this seemingly simple question resides one root of the debate about the ethics of aesthetic dentistry.

Aesthetic dentistry —almost exclusively an elective procedure— and necessary dentistry are no longer mutually exclusive procedures.

We must remember today’s patient is a very sophisticated consumer, nothing like those of a few short years ago, who only thought of dentistry as a ‘drill and fill’ profession.

With the materials available for dental procedures now more natural looking, the boundaries for aesthetic and necessary dentistry are becoming blurred and bring into question the ethics surrounding these procedures.

Is it solely the province of the dental practitioner to determine a patient’s needs — treatment of a decaying tooth or periodontal disease, for example— or is a patient saying they don’t like their mouth’s appearance to be considered the genesis of a treatment plan?

We’ll be talking about this over the course of the week, and welcome any feedback you have. Feel free to leave a comment here or contact us on our social media outlets:

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Image courtesy of: Salvatore Vuono

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