What Is Informed Consent, And How Does It Affect Dental Care In Canada?

The practice of dentistry in Canada is covered extensively by rules and regulations that dictate how dental clinics are allowed to operate, including clear direction on the responsibilities and duties that dentists have for making their patients well-informed on the nature of the dental care that they will receive. This is to ensure dentists and patients are in complete agreement on the dental treatments and oral care procedures they elect to undergo.

You always need to read the fine print before you sign on the dotted line. Whether you’re buying your first car or agreeing to take on a new job, those little details can make a big difference in the outcome. The same is true with any kind of healthcare you agree to, including dental treatments and procedures. In fact, the detailed requirements that all dental clinics in Canada must follow when it comes to informing their patients about their dental care are quite comprehensive.

Under the rules of what is known as ‘informed consent’, dentists are responsible for providing complete understanding to their patients on the care they are to receive. Patients are then asked to either provide express consent verbally, or in the case of more complex or expansive treatments, they may be required to sign a formal consent document. In either case, patients are responsible for indicating that they have given their expressed consent to receive the care before the dentist is legally permitted to proceed. There are many reasons why this process is so important, and why it is so clearly defined in terms of what the rules and responsibilities for dentists and patients are.

Be Informed On All Available Dental Treatment Options

The first key reason for having a structured informed consent procedure in a dental clinic is so that patients are provided with complete explanations on all their available options for treatment. For many types of dental health problems, there could be multiple different ways that the dentist could proceed to treat the patient. For example, a patient who needs braces or orthodontics to straighten their teeth may be able to choose from traditional metal braces, ceramic braces, fast braces, or Invisalign invisible braces. Which one is best for the patient? What are the pros and cons of each? Dentists are required to provide this information clearly to the patient, and explain the reasons behind their specific recommendation.

This applies to all procedures where multiple options exist, including restorative dental work like dental implants, dentures, dental crowns and dental bridges, cosmetic treatments like tooth whitening and dental veneers, preventive dental care such as fluoride and sealants, and more. If there is more than one way to treat the condition of a particular patient, the dentist must inform the patient accordingly and with complete detail. In most cases, the patient will likely elect to proceed with the dentist’s recommended course of treatment. However, this process ensures that if a patient prefers another viable alternative, they are given the option to discuss it and perhaps influence the scope of treatment to better suit their personal goals and preferences.

Be Informed About Dental Care Costs & Benefits / Insurance Coverage

For patients with expansive and comprehensive dental insurance benefits, the cost of typical dental care treatments like cleanings, x-rays, fillings, or extractions may not be much concern, as the majority of those costs will likely be covered. However, not all dental health care procedures will be covered by insurance, and benefits policies are often different in how they calculate the portion of costs that may be covered for various procedures for each individual on the policy. As part of the informed consent responsibility of the dentist, costs of procedures must be fully disclosed and understood by the patient beforehand, so that they may have adequate time to review their available benefits coverage and know the exact final costs that may be incurred.

This is also the opportunity for dentists to inform patients of their available cost management options, such as dental care financing plans like those offered here at Georgian Dental. In cases where a dental benefit plan does not provide sufficient coverage for a particular dental treatment, these types of financing options can be an easy way for patients to obtain the dental care they need in a way that makes costs much more manageable for them over the long term. Not all dental clinics offer such financing plans, so it’s important that patients and dentists alike are clear about the available payment options.

Be Informed About Dental Treatment Scope & Outcome Expectations

In addition to knowing all the available options for treatment and how the costs will be managed, understanding the full scope of treatment is of utmost importance for patients. For basic procedures like a cleaning, polishing, or fluoride treatment, things are fairly simple and straightforward, and so patients can understand what to expect rather easily. For dental health care procedures that are more advanced, such as a dental implant to replace a missing tooth, applying a full set of dental veneers, or undergoing gum restoration surgery, the scope can be much more complex.

As part of the initial dental consultation and lead-up to a more complex dental procedure, dentists will be required to provide a detailed explanation of the treatment itself. This typically includes a step-by-step walkthrough discussion with the patient, going over what to expect before, during, and after the treatment. Any preparation that the patient will need to perform will be explained, and the tools and techniques that will be used in the treatment will be discussed. Often, dentists will provide examples to patients of typical outcomes from the procedure, which may include testimonials from other patients, visual aids such as images or videos, and sometimes even digital simulations that can instantaneously demonstrate the expected results. Ultimately, patients should have a very clear idea of what is involved in each step of the treatment, and what can be expected from the final outcome.

Be Informed About Post-Treatment Recovery & Follow-Up Dental Care

Another essential part of the informed consent process for dental care clinics is offering patients all the necessary instruction and guidance on how to handle post-treatment recovery care, and the specifics on any follow-up appointments that may be needed to monitor the recovery and healing progress of the patient. If any medication is required to treat infections, manage pain, reduce inflammation, or other reasons, the details of these must be provided to the patient prior to the commencement of the procedure. Patients also must know how to properly care for their mouths after dental surgeries, such as gum grafting or tooth extractions in order to achieve the optimum healing outcome and best possible results.

Furthermore, some dental treatments require changes in at-home oral care routines for the patient. Some examples include braces, dentures, dental crowns and dental bridges, all of which need extra care when cleaning to help maintain good oral health. Situations such as these also require the patient to be more careful when eating certain foods, such as very hard candies or nuts, or avoid them altogether to prevent any possible complications. Other examples are the potential need for a protective mouthguard for athletic activities, nightguards to alleviate tooth grinding while sleeping, or the importance of dental retainers to prevent the gradual drifting and misalignment of the teeth over time after braces are removed.

Complete Transparency And Clear Understanding Are Keys To Excellent Dental Health Care

To make the best choices for your health care, you need to be informed. This means knowing what all the available options are, what the pros and cons of each choice may be, and what you can ultimately expect from the treatments you receive at your dental clinic. Policies of informed consent work to the advantage of patients in Canada by working to guide dentists on how to ensure that patients are given a clear and complete understanding of the treatments and procedures that they agree to.

If you have any questions about what informed consent means here at Georgian Dental, we encourage you to call us today to start a friendly conversation and have all your concerns addressed with our team of dental care professionals. Whatever dental needs you or your family may have, we want you to be confident that you are getting the top-quality care that you are entitled to. We look forward to talking with you soon!

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