Legal and Ethical Aspects of Marketing

Guidelines for Practice Success | Managing Marketing

Before you start thinking about a marketing campaign, it’s a good idea to check your state’s dental practice act to see what’s permissible under local laws and regulations.

Regulations vary, so it’s important that you know your state’s restrictions and requirements. You should also know whether there are any stipulations or rules about contests and “thank you” gifts for patient referrals. Federal laws are also important in this area, especially when it involves remuneration that might induce the beneficiary of a program (such as Medicare or Medicaid) to select a particular provider or product. Penalties for these types of violations can be severe.

It’s also a good idea to review the ADA Principles of Ethics and Code of Professional Conduct (PDF) for guidance; pay special attention to sections 5.F., 5.H. and 5.I which review advertising, announcing specialization and limitation of practice, and general practitioner announcement of services.

Finally, take a look at the Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC) website; links to several pages appear as Resources for this article. While most dentists have heard of the FTC, they may not know what it does and how its duties and directives impact them.

The FTC is the federal agency that sets truth-in-advertising regulations and determines what constitutes deceptive or unfair advertising. It’s a good idea to be at least generally familiar with these topics to ensure that the messages in your marketing campaigns comply with all of the regulations that may apply. FTC resources also outline the types of messages that advertisers, including service providers such as dentists, can use in online advertising.

The bottom line is that ads must be truthful, non-deceptive and fair, and advertisers must have enough evidence to support any claims made in their ads.

Some things to keep in mind include:

  • Advertising is considered deceptive if it is likely to mislead consumers (patients) in a way that could influence a consumer’s decision.
  • Deception can result from what an ad does – or doesn’t – say. For instance, an ad promising an outcome that cannot be delivered to every patient can be deceptive. An ad can be considered deceptive if it neglects to include important information or even if it contains true statements that, when considered together and in context, imply something that isn’t true.
  • Endorsements and testimonials must represent the endorser’s actual opinion and experience with your services. This type of advertising is most common online through online reviews or blogs. Endorsers must clearly disclose any material connection with the dental practice.
  • Consult your state’s regulations and applicable administrative rules before making any decisions about internet marketing. Also check the state’s dental practice act to find out if anything is specifically prohibited. Many states prohibit false, deceptive, or unsubstantiated representations in advertising, regardless of the format or medium.


If you are not an ADA member, you can purchase whitepapers in the ADA Store.