April 18, 2011
Dear Fellow Members:
As you know, members of the Seventh District Dental Society are also members of the New York State and American Dental Associations, the latter of which represents over 70% of practicing dentists in the United States. This is a far larger percentage than other professional organizations, such as the American Medical Association, which represents less than 50% of practicing physicians. The amount of outstanding work that these associations do on our behalf, both at the state and national levels, is staggering and continues to grow each year. We expect our leaders and representatives in organized dentistry to protect our great profession and they do so with significant results. We should be proud to be part of such important and effective organizations.
However, much is also expected of us members. As part of NYSDA and the ADA, we must adhere to codes of ethics that hold each of us to high standards of conduct in our personal and professional lives. It applies not only in the manner in which we deliver dental services to our patients, but also in the way that we communicate and interact with the public we serve. We, the members of the Ethics Committee, have noticed a deterioration of these high standards when it comes to advertising services and credentials. Furthermore, we are receiving an increase in the number of complaints about advertising, whether it is print, radio, television, or the internet.
It is clear to us that many members are unaware of what constitutes false/misleading advertising. In addition, members do not understand the limits regarding promotion of specialty services and credentials. Our intent is to provide some basic guidelines that you can use to develop ethical, professional advertising and promotional materials for your practice.
The NYSDA & ADA Codes of Ethics are excellent references for information on ethical advertising and both are available online at their respective websites. Here is the introduction to Principle Section Five of the NYSDA Code of Ethics:
In order to serve the public properly, dentists should represent themselves in a manner that contributes to the esteem of the profession. Dentists should not misrepresent their training and competence in any way that would be false or misleading in any material respect.
We refer you directly to the NYSDA Code for specifics and for advisory opinions, but here are some common advertising violations:
1. Fictional patient testimonies are not permitted. Factual patient testimonies are allowed, but certain conditions must be met, as listed in the NYSDA Code. Not only are fictional testimonies a violation of the NYSDA Code, but they are also in violation of Article 29 of the Rule of the Board of Regents, which means they are a form of Professional Misconduct.
2. Claims of superiority, such as “Best dentist in town” or “Named Top Dentist by New York Magazine” are not permitted.
3. General dentists listed under specialist headings in the phone book are unethical because it misleads the public into thinking that the dentist has specialty certification.
4. General dentists can advertise that they perform certain specialty services, but there are some common violations:
a. The advertisement should not imply that the dentist is a specialist. For example, a general dentist might take additional continuing education in orthodontics and provide orthodontic services in his/her office. However, the advertisement should not give the impression that he/she completed an accredited, advanced training program in orthodontics. Patients do not usually understand the difference.
b. A general dentist who advertises specialty services must state in the copy that he/she is a general dentist.
5. There are more and more group practices that have one or more general dentists and a number of different specialists. The average patient can be confused by the different credentials and what they mean. For example, a dentist might have completed advanced training in periodontics or endodontics. Both of these specialties have training in surgical procedures. However, the office promotional material, the office staff, and the dentists cannot refer to them as “oral surgeons.” Such a statement implies that the dentist has completed an accredited, advanced training program in Oral & Maxillofacial Surgery.
6. Dentists can advertise that they deliver services in various disciplines, such as sedation, cosmetic dentistry, or dental implants. However, they cannot state or imply that they are specialists or that they specialize in these areas. None of these disciplines is recognized as a specialty by the American Dental Association.
These examples are but a few of the numerous advertising violations we see in our community. Please take a moment to review the NYSDA and ADA Codes to familiarize yourself with the ethics of advertising as it pertains to dental practice. Also, you can call the dental society headquarters and ask to have a member of our local Ethics Committee call you to discuss a specific issue.
Members of Ethics Committee
Seventh District Dental Society