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Consent in the Dental process, a practical approach

Consent forms are routine practice when receiving treatment in hospitals. They set out the extent of treatment that has been agreed, document the risks of the procedure and record in writing that the patient has consented to the procedure. But how many people have signed a consent form when undergoing dental treatment? Unlike most other areas of medicine, consent forms are not the norm with dental treatment.

That is not to say that a Dentist does not need to gain a patient’s consent before commencing dental work.

Dental Protection, who protect and support the professional interests of their dental members, offer advice to their members when it comes to gaining consent for dental treatment. They make it clear that a patient’s informed consent to investigations or treatment is a fundamental aspect of the proper provision of dental care. Without informed consent to treatment, a dentist is vulnerable to criticism on a number of counts, not least those of assault and negligence, which in turn could lead respectively to criminal charges and civil claims.

The General Dental Counsel also list obtaining valid/ informed consent as one of their 9 Principal Standards.

To satisfy they have obtained your valid/informed consent a Dentist must make sure you have enough information about the risks and benefits of all reasonable treatment options, along with the likely outcome of no treatment, so you can decide which treatment option is the most appropriate one for you. You must be given all this information before treatment starts and you must make this decision yourself, free from any pressure and you must have capacity to be able to understand the information and use it to make an informed decision.

Practically this should form a detailed discussion with your Dentist and usually your verbal consent obtained to commence any treatment. Notes of the discussion should be recorded within your records, and you should be provided with a clear and concise explanation as to costs, usually provided in the form of a written costs schedule.

Written consent must be obtained for treatment that is going to be conducted under sedation or general anaesthetic.

You must be given a reasonable amount of time to consider the information to make a decision.

If, after going through this process, you are still unsure of what treatment is the best option for you or you do not understand enough of the risks and benefits to provide your informed consent, ask for the information in witting. This will allow you to go away and have a think about your options, discuss with family or friends, or conduct your own research, before deciding.

The types of things you could ask include:

  • What are the different options for treatment and why does your Dentist believe a particular treatment is necessary or more appropriate for you than another.
  • The consequences, risks and benefits of the treatment your Dentist proposes.
  • The recovery period for the proposed or recommended treatment.
  • What might happen if you chose no treatment.
  • Is the proposed treatment guaranteed and will there be any further costs associated with it?

Dental treatment can have a significant cosmetic impact, especially if the outcome is not as you expected. Therefore, ensure you are aware of and understand all the possible outcomes before you consent to treatment.

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