The Hippocratic Oath and Orthodontists

September 17, 2013 by Frost Orthodontics
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When we have never worked in a certain profession, we usually don’t have any idea about its particularities. For example, working at McDonald’s may look pretty straightforward: your order is taken, your order is made, and you get your order. What most of us don’t see however, is everything else that makes the business run: inventory, floor scrubbing, grease changing, personnel management, fixing broken equipment…suddenly that job isn’t so simple!

Some patients think about doctors (including orthodontists) the same way: they go to school for a long time, but after that they show up to their practice and fix people’s problems. It’s true that doctors are required to retain a huge amount of knowledge and are expected to meet a high professional standard, but there are still many intricacies that most patients will never see.

Ethics is a very delicate subject for medical professionals, and as such it must always be a fundamental concern. A recent article in the American Journal of Orthodontics & Dentofacial Orthopedics has brought up another ethical issue which many doctors face, including orthodontists. The article brings up a hypothetical issue in which an orthodontist is treating the wife of a senior dentist colleague. The orthodontist discovers that the patient’s gums have problems that were not addressed by her husband, so he must tell his more senior colleague and friend that his wife needs specialist co-treatment (and thereby implying that he’s not doing his “job” correctly).

The article points out that one of the principal components of the Hippocratic Oath—the basis for medical ethics—is nonmaleficence, that is, that a doctor should do no harm to his or her patients. However, the principal component of the Oath is gratitude, or a doctor’s respect for his or her teachers and/or senior professional colleagues.

Here’s the problem: does the orthodontist risk “disrespect” of his elder colleague by suggesting co-treatment by another professional, or does he do what he believes is best for his patient? I think the best course of action here would be to have a conversation, first with the patient’s husband. The orthodontist should explain his opinion and provide necessary evidence. It’s possible that the aging husband may simply have overlooked the issue, and thus will most likely agree to further treatment. If he does disagree, however, the orthodontist has the option to refuse to treat his colleague’s wife because of his concern for her wellbeing. Hopefully her husband would give respect in return to another experienced professional and the two can remain friends.

If you are in need of braces or other orthodontic treatment in Creve Coeur or St. Louis, contact Dr. Frost today!

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