SECTION 5 — Principle: Veracity ("truthfulness")
The dentist has a duty to communicate truthfully.
This principle expresses the concept that professionals have a duty to be honest and trustworthy in their dealings with people. Under this principle, the dentist's primary obligations include respecting the position of trust inherent in the dentist-patient relationship, communicating truthfully and without deception, and maintaining intellectual integrity.
Code of Professional Conduct
5.A. Representation of Care. Dentists shall not represent the care being rendered to their patients in a false or misleading manner.
5.A.1. Dental Amalgam and Other Restorative Materials. Based on current scientific data the ADA has determined that the removal of amalgam restorations from the non-allergic patient for the alleged purpose of removing toxic substances from the body, when such treatment is performed solely at the recommendation of the dentist, is improper and unethical. The same principle of veracity applies to the dentist's recommendation concerning the removal of any dental restorative material.
5.A.2. Unsubstantiated Representations. A dentist who represents that dental treatment or diagnostic techniques recommended or performed by the dentist has the capacity to diagnose, cure or alleviate diseases, infections or other conditions, when such representations are not based upon accepted scientific knowledge or research, is acting unethically.
5.B. Representation of Fees. Dentists shall not represent the fees being charged for providing care in a false or misleading manner.
5.B.1. Waiver of Copayment. A dentist who accepts a third party1 payment under a copayment plan as payment in full without disclosing to the third party1 that the patient's payment portion will not be collected, is engaged in overbilling. The essence of this ethical impropriety is deception and misrepresentation; an overbilling dentist makes it appear to the third party1 that the charge to the patient for services rendered is higher than it actually is.
5.B.2. Overbilling. It is unethical for a dentist to increase a fee to a patient solely because the patient is covered under a dental benefits plan.
5.B.3. Fee Differential. The fee for a patient without dental benefits shall be considered a dentist’s full fee.2 This is the fee that should be represented to all benefit carriers regardless of any negotiated fee discount. Payments accepted by a dentist under a governmentally funded program, a component or constituent dental society-sponsored access program, or a participating agreement entered into under a program with a third party shall not be considered or construed as evidence of overbilling in determining whether a charge to a patient, or to another third party in behalf of a patient not covered under any of the aforecited programs constitutes overbilling under this section of the Code.
5.B.4. Treatment Dates. A dentist who submits a claim form to a third party1 reporting incorrect treatment dates for the purpose of assisting a patient in obtaining benefits under a dental plan, which benefits would otherwise be disallowed, is engaged in making an unethical, false or misleading representation to such third party.1
5.B.5. Dental Procedures. A dentist who incorrectly describes on a third party1 claim form a dental procedure in order to receive a greater payment or reimbursement or incorrectly makes a non-covered procedure appear to be a covered procedure on such a claim form is engaged in making an unethical, false or misleading representation to such third party.1
5.B.6. Unnecessary Services. A dentist who recommends or performs unnecessary dental services or procedures is engaged in unethical conduct. The dentist’s ethical obligation in this matter applies regardless of the type of practice arrangement or contractual obligations in which he or she provides patient care.
5.C. Disclosure of Conflict of Interest. A dentist who presents educational or scientific information in an article, seminar or other program shall disclose to the readers or participants any monetary or other special interest the dentist may have with a company whose products are promoted or endorsed in the presentation. Disclosure shall be made in any promotional material and in the presentation itself.
5.D. Devices And Therapeutic Methods. Except for formal investigative studies, dentists shall be obliged to prescribe, dispense, or promote only those devices, drugs and other agents whose complete formulae are available to the dental profession. Dentists shall have the further obligation of not holding out as exclusive any device, agent, method or technique if that representation would be false or misleading in any material respect.
5.D.1. Reporting Adverse Reactions. A dentist who suspects the occurrence of an adverse reaction to a drug or dental device has an obligation to communicate that information to the broader medical and dental community, including, in the case of a serious adverse event, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
5.D.2 Marketing or Sale of Products or Procedures. Dentists who, in the regular conduct of their practices, engage in or employ auxiliaries in the marketing or sale of products or procedures to their patients must take care not to exploit the trust inherent in the dentist-patient relationship for their own financial gain. Dentists should not induce their patients to purchase products or undergo procedures by misrepresenting the product’s value, the necessity of the procedure or the dentist’s professional expertise in recommending the product or procedure.
In the case of a health-related product, it is not enough for the dentist to rely on the manufacturer’s or distributor’s representations about the product’s safety and efficacy. The dentist has an independent obligation to inquire into the truth and accuracy of such claims and verify that they are founded on accepted scientific knowledge or research.
Dentists should disclose to their patients all relevant information the patient needs to make an informed purchase decision, including whether the product is available elsewhere and whether there are any financial incentives for the dentist to recommend the product that would not be evident to the patient.
(See also: Report of the ADA Council on Ethics, Bylaws and Judicial Affairs on Advisory Opinion 5.D.2. Marketing or Sale of Products or Procedures.)(PDF)
5.E. Professional Announcement. In order to properly serve the public, 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.
5.F. Advertising. Although any dentist may advertise, no dentist shall advertise or solicit patients in any form of communication in a manner that is false or misleading in any material respect.3
5.F.1. Published Communications. If a dental health article, message or newsletter is published in print or electronic media under a dentist’s byline to the public without making truthful disclosure of the source and authorship or is designed to give rise to questionable expectations for the purpose of inducing the public to utilize the services of the sponsoring dentist, the dentist is engaged in making a false or misleading representation to the public in a material respect.3
5.F.2. Examples of "False Or Misleading." The following examples are set forth to provide insight into the meaning of the term "false or misleading in a material respect."3 These examples are not meant to be all-inclusive. Rather, by restating the concept in alternative language and giving general examples, it is hoped that the membership will gain a better understanding of the term. With this in mind, statements shall be avoided which would: a) contain a material misrepresentation of fact, b) omit a fact necessary to make the statement considered as a whole not materially misleading, c) be intended or be likely to create an unjustified expectation about results the dentist can achieve, and d) contain a material, objective representation, whether express or implied, that the advertised services are superior in quality to those of other dentists, if that representation is not subject to reasonable substantiation.
Subjective statements about the quality of dental services can also raise ethical concerns. In particular, statements of opinion may be misleading if they are not honestly held, if they misrepresent the qualifications of the holder, or the basis of the opinion, or if the patient reasonably interprets them as implied statements of fact. Such statements will be evaluated on a case by case basis, considering how patients are likely to respond to the impression made by the advertisement as a whole. The fundamental issue is whether the advertisement, taken as a whole, is false or misleading in a material respect.
5.F.3. Unearned, Nonhealth Degrees. A dentist may use the title Doctor or Dentist, DDS, DMD or any additional earned, advanced academic degrees in health service areas in an announcement to the public. The announcement of an unearned academic degree may be misleading because of the likelihood that it will indicate to the public the attainment of specialty or diplomate status. For purposes of this advisory opinion, an unearned academic degree is one which is awarded by an educational institution not accredited by a generally recognized accrediting body or is an honorary degree.
The use of a nonhealth degree in an announcement to the public may be a representation which is misleading because the public is likely to assume that any degree announced is related to the qualifications of the dentist as a practitioner.
Some organizations grant dentists fellowship status as a token of membership in the organization or some other form of voluntary association. The use of such fellowships in advertising to the general public may be misleading because of the likelihood that it will indicate to the public attainment of education or skill in the field of dentistry.
Generally, unearned or nonhealth degrees and fellowships that designate association, rather than attainment, should be limited to scientific papers and curriculum vitae. In all instances, state law should be consulted. In any review by the council of the use of designations in advertising to the public, the council will apply the standard of whether the use of such is false or misleading in a material respect.3
(See also: Report of the ADA Council on Ethics, Bylaws and Judicial Affairs on Advisory Opinion 5.F.3. Unearned, Nonhealth Degrees (PDF).)
5.F.4. Referral Services. There are two basic types of referral services for dental care: not-for-profit and the commercial. The not-for-profit is commonly organized by dental societies or community services. It is open to all qualified practitioners in the area served. A fee is sometimes charged the practitioner to be listed with the service. A fee for such referral services is for the purpose of covering the expenses of the service and has no relation to the number of patients referred. In contrast, some commercial referral services restrict access to the referral service to a limited number of dentists in a particular geographic area. Prospective patients calling the service may be referred to a single subscribing dentist in the geographic area and the respective dentist billed for each patient referred. Commercial referral services often advertise to the public stressing that there is no charge for use of the service and the patient may not be informed of the referral fee paid by the dentist. There is a connotation to such advertisements that the referral that is being made is in the nature of a public service. A dentist is allowed to pay for any advertising permitted by the Code, but is generally not permitted to make payments to another person or entity for the referral of a patient for professional services. While the particular facts and circumstances relating to an individual commercial referral service will vary, the council believes that the aspects outlined above for commercial referral services violate the Code in that it constitutes advertising which is false or misleading in a material respect and violates the prohibitions in the Code against fee splitting.3
5.F.5. Infectious Disease Test Results. An advertisement or other communication intended to solicit patients which omits a material fact or facts necessary to put the information conveyed in the advertisement in a proper context can be misleading in a material respect. A dental practice should not seek to attract patients on the basis of partial truths which create a false impression.3
For example, an advertisement to the public of HIV negative test results, without conveying additional information that will clarify the scientific significance of this fact contains a misleading omission. A dentist could satisfy his or her obligation under this advisory opinion to convey additional information by clearly stating in the advertisement or other communication: "This negative HIV test cannot guarantee that I am currently free of HIV."
5.F.6. Web Sites and Search Engine Optimization. Many dentists employ an Internet web site to announce their practices, introduce viewers to the professionals and staff in the office, describe practice philosophies and impart oral health care information to the public. Dentists may use services to increase the visibility of their web sites when consumers perform searches for dentally-related content. This technique is generally known as “search engine optimization” or “SEO.” Dentists have an ethical obligation to ensure that their web sites, like their other professional announcements, are truthful and do not present information in a manner that is false and misleading in a material respect. Also, any SEO techniques used in connection with a dentist’s web site should comport with the ADA Principles of Ethics and Code of Professional Conduct.
5.G. Name of Practice. Since the name under which a dentist conducts his or her practice may be a factor in the selection process of the patient, the use of a trade name or an assumed name that is false or misleading in any material respect is unethical. Use of the name of a dentist no longer actively associated with the practice may be continued for a period not to exceed one year.3
5.G.1. Dentist Leaving Practice. Dentists leaving a practice who authorize continued use of their names should receive competent advice on the legal implications of this action. With permission of a departing dentist, his or her name may be used for more than one year, if, after the one year grace period has expired, prominent notice is provided to the public through such mediums as a sign at the office and a short statement on stationery and business cards that the departing dentist has retired from the practice.
5.H. Announcement of Specialization And Limitation of Practice. A dentist may ethically announce as a specialist to the public in any of the dental specialties recognized by the National Commission on Recognition of Dental Specialties and Certifying Boards including dental public health, endodontics, oral and maxillofacial pathology, oral and maxillofacial radiology, oral and maxillofacial surgery, orthodontics and dentofacial orthopedics, pediatric dentistry, periodontics, and prosthodontics, and in any other areas of dentistry for which specialty recognition has been granted under the standards required or recognized in the practitioner’s jurisdiction, provided the dentist meets the educational requirements required for recognition as a specialist adopted by the American Dental Association or accepted in the jurisdiction in which they practice.* Dentists who choose to announce specialization should use “specialist in” and shall devote a sufficient portion of their practice to the announced specialty or specialties to maintain expertise in that specialty or those specialties, Dentists whose practice is devoted exclusively to an announced specialty or specialties may announce that their practice “is limited to” that specialty or those specialties. Dentists who use their eligibility to announce as specialists to make the public believe that specialty services rendered in the dental office are being rendered by qualified specialists when such is not the case are engaged in unethical conduct. The burden of responsibility is on specialists to avoid any inference that general practitioners who are associated with specialists are qualified to announce themselves as specialists.
General Standards. The following are included within the standards of the American Dental Association for determining the education, experience and other appropriate requirements for announcing specialization and limitation of practice:
- The special area(s) of dental practice and an appropriate certifying board must be approved by the American Dental Association.
- Dentists who announce as specialists must have successfully completed an educational program accredited by the Commission on Dental Accreditation, two or more years in length, as specified by the Council on Dental Education and Licensure, or be diplomates of an American Dental Association recognized certifying board.
The scope of the individual specialist's practice shall be governed by the educational standards for the specialty in which the specialist is announcing.
- The practice carried on by dentists who announce as specialists shall be limited exclusively to the special area(s) of dental practices announced by the dentist.
Standards For Multiple-Specialty Announcements.
The educational criterion for announcement of limitation of practice in additional specialty areas is the successful completion of an advanced educational program accredited by the Commission on Dental Accreditation (or its equivalent if completed prior to 1967)4 in each area for which the dentist wishes to announce. Dentists who are presently ethically announcing limitation of practice in a specialty area and who wish to announce in an additional specialty area must submit to the appropriate constituent society documentation of successful completion of the requisite education in specialty programs listed by the Council on Dental Education and Licensure or certification as a diplomate in each area for which they wish to announce.
5.H.1. Dual Degreed Dentists. Nothing in Section 5.H shall be interpreted to prohibit a dual degreed dentist who practices medicine or osteopathy under a valid state license from announcing to the public as a dental specialist provided the dentist meets the educational, experience and other standards set forth in the Code for specialty announcement and further providing that the announcement is truthful and not materially misleading.
5.H.2. Specialist Announcement of Credentials in Non-Specialty Interest Areas. A dentist who is qualified to announce specialization under this section may not announce to the public that he or she is certified or a diplomate or otherwise similarly credentialed in an area of dentistry not recognized as a specialty area by the American Dental Association unless:
- The organization granting the credential grants certification or diplomate status based on the following: a) the dentist's successful completion of a formal, full-time advanced education program (graduate or postgraduate level) of at least 12 months' duration; and b) the dentist's training and experience; and c) successful completion of an oral and written examination based on psychometric principles; and
- The announcement includes the following language: [Name of announced area of dental practice] is not recognized as a specialty area by the American Dental Association.
Nothing in this advisory opinion affects the right of a properly qualified dentist to announce specialization in an ADA-recognized specialty area(s) as provided for under Section 5.H of this Code or the responsibility of such dentist to limit his or her practice exclusively to the special area(s) of dental practice announced. Specialists shall not announce their credentials in a manner that implies specialization in a non-specialty interest area.
(See also: Report of the ADA Council on Ethics, Bylaws and Judicial Affairs on Advisory Opinion 5.H.2. Specialist Announcement of Credentials in Non-Specialty Interest Areas (PDF).)
5.I. General Practitioner Announcement of Services. General dentists who wish to announce the services available in their practices are permitted to announce the availability of those services so long as they avoid any communications that express or imply specialization. General dentists shall also state that the services are being provided by general dentists. No dentist shall announce available services in any way that would be false or misleading in any material respect.3
5. I.1. General Practitioner Announcement of Credentials in Interest Areas in Dentistry.
A general dentist may not announce to the public that he or she is certified or a diplomate or otherwise similarly credentialed in an area of dentistry not recognized as a specialty area by the National Commission on Recognition of Dental Specialties and Certifying Boards or by the jurisdiction in which the dentist practices unless:
1. The organization granting the credential grants certification or diplomate status based on the following: a) the dentist’s successful completion of a formal, full-time advanced education program (graduate or postgraduate level) of at least 12 months duration; and b) the dentist’s training and experience; and c) successful completion of an oral and written examination based on psychometric principles;
2. The dentist discloses that he or she is a general dentist; and
3. The announcement includes the following language: [Name of announced area of dental practice] is not recognized as a specialty area by the National Commission on Recognition of Dental Specialties and Certifying Boards or [the name of the jurisdiction in which the dentist practices].
5.I.2. Credentials in General Dentistry. General dentists may announce fellowships or other credentials earned in the area of general dentistry so long as they avoid any communications that express or imply specialization and the announcement includes the disclaimer that the dentist is a general dentist. The use of abbreviations to designate credentials shall be avoided when such use would lead the reasonable person to believe that the designation represents an academic degree, when such is not the case.
- A third party is any party to a dental prepayment contract that may collect premiums, assume financial risks, pay claims and/or provide administrative services.
- A full fee is the fee for a service that is set by the dentist, which reflects the costs of providing the procedure and the value of the dentist’s professional judgment.
- Advertising, solicitation of patients or business or other promotional activities by dentists or dental care delivery organizations shall not be considered unethical or improper, except for those promotional activities which are false or misleading in any material respect. Notwithstanding any ADA Principles of Ethics and Code of Professional Conduct or other standards of dentist conduct which may be differently worded, this shall be the sole standard for determining the ethical propriety of such promotional activities. Any provision of an ADA constituent or component society's code of ethics or other standard of dentist conduct relating to dentists' or dental care delivery organizations' advertising, solicitation, or other promotional activities which is worded differently from the above standard shall be deemed to be in conflict with the ADA Principles of Ethics and Code of Professional Conduct.
- Completion of three years of advanced training in oral and maxillofacial surgery or two years of advanced training in one of the other recognized dental specialties prior to 1967.