Dental ethics show value in the time of COVID-19

2021 02 25 21 07 6325 2021 02 26 Elster Nanette 400

The ethical principles that helped dentists through the 1918 flu pandemic can also guide dentists today, noted dental ethics expert Nanette Elster. Elster spoke with about ethical decision-making during COVID-19 -- a topic she's also discussing on February 26 at the Chicago Dental Society Midwinter Meeting.

In the video, Elster, manager of ethics outreach programs at the ADA, talks about the five principles of the ADA Code of Ethics. While the ethical decisions dentists need to make may change over time, the foundational ethical principles of the code have stood the test of time, Elster noted.

Nanette Elster.Nanette Elster.

"The code, even though it's over 150 years old, is still completely applicable to the pandemic even though it's something we've never experienced before," she said in the interview.

For instance, dentists can use the ADA Code of Ethics to guide them through implementing a strategy if a staff member tests positive for COVID-19. Elster outlined the thought process of a dentist in that scenario last April when everything first shut down. This included using the framework to identify who to notify, address urgent referrals, and ensure the positive staff member is not treated unfairly upon everyone's return to the office after quarantine or isolation.

"That kind of gives you an idea how just one issue spawns into so many ethical issues," she said.

Elster also emphasized the importance of clear communication when addressing ethical issues. This is particularly important during the COVID-19 pandemic when patients are hearing new terms, such as shelter-in-place, that may mean different things to different people.

"Communication is key, and that's been really tough during the pandemic on a lot of different levels," she said.

Watch the video below to learn more about dental ethics during COVID-19, including why Elster thinks dentists were well-positioned for the current crisis.

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