A north star for practicing after 2020 and beyond

By | February 1, 2021

2020 was unkind to everybody. The pandemic has placed restrictions on businesses, causing huge losses across the board. Much like the recession in the late 2000s, prospective students coming out of long periods of education will be arriving into a world that they might not be prepared for. There are new guidelines to meet that weren’t part of any previous lesson.

Photo of Dr. Al Sammarraie

Dr. Al Sammarraie

Dentistry is an essential service, and the restrictions in place have not prevented access to necessary dental care. However, the precautions that must be taken now do change the way dental services can be performed. These changes are in place to help prevent the spread of disease from patients and their doctors. It is important to remember, even as times change, there is a bedrock of standards for dentists across the country – and the world – to follow.

The American Dental Association’s Code of Ethics is a guideline, a necessity and a principle of behavior for dentists to follow. It represents the guarantee made to any patient that they will be cared for with the highest professionalism. No matter what state the world is in, this code can and must be followed to preserve the integrity of the practice and the welfare of the patients.

The tenants of the code are simple in nature but the importance given to them, the weight of each directive, makes them far more potent than what a written contract or agreement would entail. These are unspoken vows fueled by the honor of the discipline. Breaking them is punishable, I believe, beyond reprimand or a fine. Failing them means failing to be a dentist at all.

The code has five major guidelines: Respect a Patient’s Wants and Needs, Do No Harm, Do Good, Be Fair and Be Truthful. Put the patient and their desires first, even if that entails the refusal of treatment, or accepting treatments outside of recommendations. Keep the patient safe and healthy in and out of the chair. Stay up to date on the latest practices and techniques to provide the most optimal care to all your patients. Act in each patient’s best interest. Never discriminate or judge patients. Build trust between you and your patients with honesty.

These are the things that still remain. COVID-19 may impact dental practices, the distance, and the timelines for necessary health care, but it can’t change the pillars of integrity that dentistry is built on. In a trying time, it is useful to review these codes and determine if you are doing your best to live up to them. Even through a pandemic, having a basis of good practices and moral integrity can be vital for a person’s business and prestige as a healthcare professional.

As a member of a profession that is an essential service, you and your technicians will be relied on to keep the health of your patients while adhering to the new restrictions. Many consider it a trial, to work around so many new practices in order to stay on the line, and the penalties for making even a small error can echo out and become unsalvageable. A bad experience now isn’t just a negative review you can work off over time, it could mean slow business will stop. That fear has filled the hearts of business owners across the country, and being essential doesn’t prevent criticism.

That is why the Code of Ethics is so important. Stick to them and you will surely do well. They are designed to give dentists, new and old, the same point to start from when times are bad. They exist to teach the new generation beginning their practice how they will act so the old generation doesn’t have to correct their mistakes. Your patients might be worried, but you should be certain in what you’re doing. Give them the sense of familiarity they’re longing for. When they look at you wearing your mask, it shouldn’t remind them of what’s going on outside. Your mask was always there. It’s a sign that you know what you’re doing.

Dr. Muhalab Al Sammarraie is a New Dentist Now guest blogger. He grew up in Baghdad before coming to the U.S. as a foreign-trained dentist. He obtained his D.D.S. with honors in 2019 and became a member of the A.D.A., California Dental Association, and the San Diego County Dental Society. While working towards his second degree, He accrued remarkable leadership experience working in public, private, and non-profit sectors. He led many departments and oversaw process improvement in education, social services, and community health. Dr. Al Sammarraie is currently a site dental director at AltaMed Health Services, the nation’s largest FQHC. Outside of dentistry, Dr. Al Sammarraie supports activist groups in Iraq that help war victims and displaced people find educational opportunities and medical care.

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