Connecting Ethics in a Dental Practice and in Life

Understanding the connection between ethics you have outside of the practice, and the ethics you have inside the practice.

Have you ever lied? Cheated? Maybe, you got an uncomfortable feeling in the pit of your stomach, or just could not believe what you were seeing in front of your eyes? Yes, you were thinking about the ethics of the situation. Every industry has an ethical code, and every industry has problems.

Think about a time when you saw something happen that you knew was wrong. You knew that the patient did not need that expensive procedure, but what did you do? Did you do anything? Did you decide to address the situation and share a different opinion than the dentist? Hopefully, that went well, but I doubt it.

It can be extremely complicated to know what to do in these situations. Remember, there are politics at play here. Being a whistleblower can have serious repercussions. No one likes to be caught doing something unethical. They get defensive and justify their behavior. They turn on you saying, “You are wrong, and you did not see what you saw.” You might even question, “Did I really see that?” The facts are it can get ugly. I am not trying to be melodramatic here, but this is the real world. You must weigh what the consequences are before you step up and do anything.

The answer might seem simple, but it is not. You could end up working in a hostile environment or they might get rid of you. When we were kids, we learned right from wrong, but not everyone chooses to do the right thing. Then we grew up. Are you surprised that adults do not always do the ethical thing? I am not judging, I am just pointing out that ethical issues are challenging. People in power such as dentists or office managers have a distinct perspective on this. Remember, they are not dealing with politics; they are in power. I hate to say it, but ethics are influenced by who has power in a situation. For this reason, you cannot always judge someone for staying quiet. (Here it comes…I know I will get some hostile email for that statement, but I stand behind it.) I try to be ethical, but, if I was a dental assistant, who was a single parent with small children, barely scraping by on my salary I might feel differently when I witness an egregious mistake being made. It is called survival people!

There are dental professionals in exceedingly small towns who are reading this article. You know who you are. You know where the skeletons are buried. I know you know. Yet every dentist I have talked with, interviewed, and masterminded with really do not have a clue that this stuff happens on their watch. It does.

When I was a kid, I was bullied. My mom asked me recently, why I did not tell her about it when it was happening. Right, I was going to tell my mom who would then yell at the principal, who would then call the kid’s parents. How do you think that would have played out for me? It is a double-edged sword. Do you think that by speaking up the bullying would stop? It has only gotten worse with social media. Remember your childhood. Some of us are dealing with the same dilemmas in adulthood. I did not tell my mom. I suffered. I struggled. It was rough. Who would think that what we learn as a child follows us even when we become adults?

It takes guts to address when someone is doing something ethically wrong. Not everyone has or listens to their internal voices that tell them what to do. I wish I could say that I stand up every time I see something wrong happening. I do now because I am old and have nothing to lose. I own my own business and frankly do not have politics to deal with. So, I do the right thing most of the time. I know where my line is. Those who do nothing may have weighed their cost/risk benefit. If you’re a single parent and this is your livelihood, I say tread carefully.

This topic of ethics is worth contemplating. Talk to your friends. Figure out who you are and what you believe in. Nobody can decide what will make you comfortable but you. I believe in your decision making, which includes the decision to do nothing. Do not let anyone else make that choice for you. They are not going to be paying your bills.

Let me know your thoughts at I know I am not alone.