Law and Ethics for Dental Assisting Exam Study Guide

Updated on Jun 23, 2011

Practice problems for this study guide can be found at:

Law and Ethics for Dental Assisting Exam Practice Problems

This article is divided into two parts. The first part deals with dental ethics and the second part deals with dental law. Generally, ethical standards are higher than legal ones. Something can be legal but unethical—for example, the slavery laws in the nineteenth century.

Concepts and Skills

Dental healthcare professionals are expected to adhere to ethical standards when dealing with patients and the general public. This chapter is divided into nine topics:

  • Sources of Ethics
  • Basic Ethical Principles
  • Professional Code of Ethics
  • Ethical Principles and Dilemmas
  • State Dental Practices Act
  • Dental Board
  • Supervision of Duties
  • Dental Team–Patient Relationship
  • Reporting of Abuse and Neglect

Sources of Ethics

From an early age, we learn how to deal with and treat others. There are many ways we learn about personal ethics. These sources include parents, basic instincts, teachers, moral codes, and examples of others.


Parents are our first influences. They teach us about moral and ethical decision making. Ethical choices and decisions are made starting at very young ages, and parents are the guides.

Basic Instincts

Most of us have some level of intuition or “feeling” about whether something is right or wrong. It is important to pay attention to those feelings and always put the patient’s best interests first.


School is one of the first places where individuals encounter moral and/or ethical decisions. Teachers are the facilitators in this area of learning. They help to instill a sense of right and wrong in children.

Moral Codes

Some individuals have a set of moral codes or religious beliefs that are followed to aid them in making ethical choices and decisions. Every religion has a moral code that members should abide by and use as guidelines when making moral and ethical decisions.

Examples of Others

Role models of those making ethical decisions or living their lives with positive morals and values are invaluable. Individuals can be influenced by watching the good choices made by someone else.

Basic Ethical Principles

Healthcare providers are always guided by ethical principles. There are six basic principles of ethical dental care. They are: veracity, justice, autonomy, nonmaleficence, beneficence, and confidentiality.


This is the act of being truthful. A dental professional should always be truthful with patients. An example of this in the dental setting is letting patients know the condition of their teeth and diagnosis.


This is being fair and honest. Justice is an ethical principle on which this country was founded, and it continues to be an important value. Patients should expect justice from their dental healthcare providers.


Most dentists operate their own business, and as such, determine how best to protect patient privacy and provide patients with appropriate treatment. Dentists must do this within the limits of practiced treatment.


This is known as the principle of “do no harm.” The dental professional has an obligation not to harm the patient. Therefore, the professional should not knowingly perform any procedure that will hurt the patient.


This is known as “doing good.” The dental professional has an obligation to promote good dental health for every patient.


Patients have the right to expect that their treatment will not be discussed with other patients or shared with anyone outside the dental office without their expressed consent. The obvious exception is if the patient is a minor; in this case, the dental team will want to discuss treatment with parents or guardians. Patients have the right to keep their child’s dental history and treatment private. The dental professional must respect this. With the adoption of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), more dental professionals are ensuring their practices adhere to confidentiality and patient privacy standards.

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