In February 2012, the Dental Council published an updated Code of Practice on Professional Behaviour and Ethical Conduct (the “Code”).  The Code introduces new guidelines covering diverse issues, ranging from an obligation to display a complaints procedure to the use of social media.

It reinforces that dentists must ensure that patients understand the diagnosis, treatment plan, likely outcome, costs and alternative treatment options.  Dentists are also obliged to advise of the nature and associated risks of treatments that are new, untested or do not have a sound evidence base.

Dentists who are treating adult patients who lack the mental capacity to give consent should consult the appropriate carer / guardian with capacity, to reach agreement about treatment, having due regard to the patient’s best interests.

Where an adverse event occurs the Code obliges dentists to respond openly, honestly and professionally to any questions asked by a patient, or their carer / guardian about the event.  Dentists must display details of their complaints procedure, so that patients can identify how to make a complaint, to whom and how the practice will deal with it.

The Code obliges dentists to make reasonable efforts to inform patients if the practice is closing or changing ownership.  Dentists must now also have adequate arrangements in place to allow patient access to records and to provide continuity of care in the event of the death of the dentist.

The Dental Council advises that dentists should be responsible and discreet in their use of social media (ie, Facebook or Twitter) for personal and professional purposes and notes that a breach of this obligation may result in Fitness to Practise proceedings.

Dentists are now obliged to report colleagues to the Dental Council if they feel that the colleague is either putting a patient’s safety at risk or unable to provide a competent service to patients.  They must also notify the Dental Council of any disciplinary matters they are involved in or any convictions against them, even if they happened in another country, while they were registered in Ireland.

The Irish Dental Association has welcomed the introduction of the Code, in particular, for its use of plain English, and is encouraging all dentists to read the Code in its entirety.