A comparison of expectations and impressions of ethical characteristics of dentists: Results of a community primary care survey

Kevin Reid, Katherine M. Humeniuk, Joan Henriksen Hellyer, Bjorg Thorsteinsdottir, Jon C. Tilburt

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


Background. To better define potential challenges in dental professional ethics, the authors gathered data regarding patients' characterizations of an ideal dentist and compared them with their impressions of dentists in general. Methods. The authors invited 500 consecutively seen primary care patients at an academic medical center to participate in the study. Participants completed a 32-item survey assessing key domains of ethical characteristics of health care professionals: trustworthiness, honesty, beneficence, nonmaleficence, respect for autonomy, empathy, compassion, patience, courage, humility and dedication. The authors used the McNemar paired t test to compare respondents' ratings of ideal dentists with their ratings of dentists in general. Results. Two hundred eight-five patients returned completed surveys, for a response rate of 57 percent. The authors found statistically significant differences between ideal and perceived characteristics in all but one domain. The area of greatest difference related to the domain of trustworthiness (that is, dentists should not "propose unnecessary treatments just so they can make money"). For this survey item, 98 percent of patients reported that it was very or extremely important, but only 57 percent of respondents moderately or strongly agreed that dentists in general were engaging in this practice (P < .0001). Conclusions and Practical Implications. These data reveal gaps between patients' expectations of the dental profession and their actual impressions of dentists in general. Addressing these discrepancies may be crucial if dentistry is to continue to enjoy the public's trust.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)829-834
Number of pages6
JournalJournal of the American Dental Association
Issue number8
StatePublished - Aug 2014
Externally publishedYes


  • Dental ethics
  • Professionalism
  • Virtue ethics

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Dentistry


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