Dentist and patient looking at blank display at clinic

Do You Have to Say Yes to Every Treatment Your Dentist Recommends?

Informed consent and informed refusal are two of the most important terms to know when you visit the dentist.

Every single decision that you make when it comes to your oral health should be an informed one. The decisions that you make about your teeth and gums can affect the rest of your body, so it’s important to know all of the details about your options, including potential risks.

What is informed consent?

Your dentist should fully explain complicated procedures in a way that you can grasp, and they may even get you to sign a form saying that you fully understand. In instances where you’re undergoing a “simple” procedure like a cleaning or filling, they likely won’t get you to sign a form as they expect that you understand what treatment will take place. This doesn’t make them exempt from explaining possible complications. If you’re getting an old filling removed, your tooth may be sensitive afterwards, it may be cracked, or the decay may have traveled into the nerve of the tooth. All of these things may lead to further treatment being needed after what seemed like a simple procedure.

Acknowledging these risks and accepting the treatment is an example of informed consent. You were given all of the information and it allowed you to make a choice that you feel would be the most beneficial for you. On the other hand, you may decide to go against what your dentist believes is the best option. This is called informed refusal.

What is informed refusal?

Simply put, this means that you always have the right to refuse recommended treatment. When your dentist explains treatment options to you, they should also give you the option of “no treatment at all.” There are usually consequences with this option, all of which will be explained to you during your appointment.

If you refuse things like x-rays, yearly exams, and hygiene appointments, it poses a problem as it may prevent your dentist from fully diagnosing problems and/or getting your mouth healthy enough to have other treatments successfully.

Another thing to keep in mind is that the Royal College of Dental Surgeons of Ontario (RCDSO) requires all patients to have a “recall examination” once every 12 months, otherwise a dental hygienist isn’t allowed to complete a cleaning.

What is a Refusal of Treatment?

A Refusal of Treatment is for your protection as well as the team taking care of you.

It is a document that says that you were offered diagnostic procedures and/or treatment and the pros and cons were outlined, and you refused. This is not only for record-keeping purposes for the dental office, but also a requirement of the RCDSO.

Typically, the only time a Refusal of Treatment is signed is when the treatment is deemed important by the dentist and if the consequences of your choice has the ability to cause significant harm to you or will drastically affect your dentist’s ability to diagnose or treat dental disease. For example, if you refuse routine x-rays, your dentist cannot see anything going on inside your tooth or under your gum tissue, which could prevent them from properly diagnosing dental infections. Left untreated, these infections can spread beyond your mouth and into other areas of your body.

How do I know I’m making the best decision for my oral health?

All your dentist can do is provide you with all of the information. It’s up to you to decide on the course of action that works best for you. Your dentist will answer any of your questions to help you make the decision. At the end of the day, it is you who has to live with the results of the path you chose.

If you’re looking for a dentist who will patiently explain the pros and cons of each option, reach out to Dr. Andrea Stevens.

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