Core Strengths – the ethical challenges with dental tourism

Catherine Rutland explores the ethical dilemmas dentists face when a patient walks into a practice with problems linked to dental tourism.Catherine Rutland explores the ethical dilemmas dentists face when a patient walks into a practice with problems linked to dental tourism.

We very often can go for some time in life without something challenging our ethics.

We don’t often think about them too much and it’s not until we’re conflicted that they become forefront in our minds.

As ethics was half of my masters, I know I can have a tendency to overthink an ethical situation. If I’m honest, I enjoy it, as long as I control my passion!

Yet sometimes I come across situations where I realise I’m not the only one who thinks a certain way.

At the moment the topic that is sparking a lot of conversation is dental tourism.

I don’t know whether because travel has been shut down for so long, we are seeing a back log of people going abroad for extensive treatment. Or perhaps there is renewed advertising of services from abroad. Either way, wherever I have gone across the UK in the last few months, someone has raised it.

Weighing up both sides

In my mind the first challenge dental tourism often ethically creates for us is the difference in prescribing.

My head has huge concern for the patients, did they understand what they were asking for or agreeing to? Did anyone inform them of the long-term consequences of the treatment, carried out many miles from home, if there are problems?

It is often hugely destructive treatment carried out over a very short period of time.

The second ethical question it raises for many I have spoken to is: ‘What do I do if they walk into my practice, either as a returning patient or as a new one with problems?’

The first issue we can feel removed from – it’s outside our sphere of influence surely, it’s the patient’s choice, we can do nothing.

As with so much of ethics, one well worth pondering on, do you really believe that? We cannot ignore the second issue and even if you have not seen a patient in this situation yet, you may well end up doing so.

Think through this carefully, and you may feel you need professional advice. Please get some if you are concerned. 

Facing into an ethical challenge can be one of the hardest things we have to do. It unsettles us to our core, yet we must do it. As long as patient care and being true to ourselves is at the core of our thinking, we will find the right way to act.

Read more Core Strengths columns from Catherine Rutland

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