30th January 2024
Ethics plays a vital role in the field of dentistry. During the dentistry interview process, candidates may be presented with ethical scenarios to assess their ability to navigate complex situations and make ethical decisions.

How Should I Approach Dentistry Ethical Scenarios?

Start by outlining and defining the issue you are being asked about. For example, if you are asked about a patient with dental decay who refuses to use fluoride toothpaste you could discuss what your understanding is of both dental decay and the use of fluoride.

After elaborating on the scenario you could then tackle the question by applying the four pillars of Medical Ethics which applies to dentistry as well.

  • Autonomy – This is a patient’s right to make their own decisions towards their healthcare and dental treatment. In this case it is respecting that the patient has a right not to use fluoride toothpaste.
  • Non-maleficence – This means that any action the dentist carries out must not harm the patient. Harm could be caused to the patient if they do not use fluoride toothpaste as they may continue to get dental decay, impacting their oral health. However, additionally, by being forced to use fluoride toothpaste they could experience psychological harm if they strongly believe that it has negative effects on their health.
  • Justice – The dentist should consider if their actions could have any consequences on the wider community. For example, in this instance if the dentist did not explain the evidence behind fluoride being safe to use in the concentrations found in toothpaste, the patient could go on to influence other members of the public.
  • Beneficence – Any action taken by the dentist should benefit the patient. This could be through decreasing the chances of dental decay by getting the patient to use a fluoride toothpaste or by allowing them to make their own choice and continuing to use a fluoride free toothpaste.

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Dentistry Ethical Scenarios: Top Tips and Advice

There is no right or wrong answer when it comes to ethical scenario questions. Approach the question in a logical manner and make sure that your discussion flows so that it is easy for the interviewer to follow.

Follow our top tips:

  • Understand the Complexity: Ethical scenarios in dentistry often involve intricate dilemmas where there may be conflicting values or interests. Take the time to fully comprehend the nuances of the scenario and identify the ethical principles at play.
  • Weigh Both Sides: Demonstrate your ability to consider different viewpoints and weigh the pros and cons of each. Discuss the potential consequences and ethical implications of various courses of action, showcasing your ability to think through the scenario comprehensively.
  • Consider Multiple Perspectives: Dentistry is a multidisciplinary field, and ethical decisions can impact patients, dental professionals, and society as a whole. Show that you can consider the perspectives of all stakeholders involved, including patients, colleagues, and the broader community.
  • Logical and Structured Approach: Organize your thoughts and present your response in a logical and coherent manner. Start by defining the ethical issue, then outline your thought process, and conclude with a well-reasoned and justified decision or course of action.
  • Ethical Principles: Familiarize yourself with the fundamental ethical principles in dentistry, such as autonomy, beneficence, non-maleficence, and justice. Apply these principles to the scenario and explain how they guide your decision-making process.
  • Communication Skills: Effective communication is crucial in dentistry, and this extends to discussing ethical scenarios. Clearly articulate your reasoning, using concise and precise language. Ensure your discussion flows logically, making it easy for the interviewer to follow your thought process.
  • Reflect on Personal Values: Ethical scenarios provide an opportunity to showcase your personal values and integrity. Reflect on your own ethical framework and how it aligns with the principles of dentistry. Be prepared to explain how your values influence your decision-making process.

Remember, the goal of ethical scenario questions is not to find a definitive answer, but to assess your ability to think critically, analyse complex situations, and make informed decisions related to patient care.

By approaching these questions with a logical and thoughtful mindset, you can demonstrate your ethical reasoning skills and commitment to ethical practice in dentistry.

What Are The Common Mistakes Candidates Make In An Interview?

There are a couple of common mistakes aspiring dental students make in their Dentistry interviews. 

  • Oversimplicity

Answering the question with an overly simplistic answer suggests that you have not understood the complexity of the issue.

  • Considering only one side or failing to show empathy

Additionally, having an overly emotive, one-sided response shows that you have not considered both sides of the argument. As well as that, Dentistry is a patient-centered profession, and candidates should demonstrate empathy and compassion towards patients. Failing to convey empathy during the interview can be a significant mistake, as it is an essential quality for providing quality dental care.

  • Lacking structure

Commonly, candidates jump from one thought to another causing their answer to be incoherent and lack structure – so make sure you’re prepared to talk about both sides of an ethical scenario.

  • Lacking dental ethics knowledge

Dentistry interviews often include questions related to ethical scenarios. Candidates may make the mistake of not having a solid understanding of dental ethics, principles, and guidelines. It is important to be familiar with ethical considerations in dentistry and be able to apply them to hypothetical situations.

  • Failing to prepare

Failing to adequately prepare for the interview is another common mistake. Candidates should research the dental school or program they are applying to, familiarize themselves with current dental topics and trends, and practice answering common interview questions.

How Should An Ethical Scenario Question Be Concluded?

The best way to conclude your answer is with a balanced conclusion that appreciates the complexity of the issue presented. For example, in the case of a patient with dental decay who refuses to use fluoride toothpaste, you may conclude:

“Although the patient has the right to choose whether or not to use fluoride toothpaste, I believe that the dentist should discuss with them the benefits of using fluoride toothpaste to prevent further dental decay.”

Further understanding could be shown by adding, “the dentist should ask why they do not want to use fluoride toothpaste and discuss the clinical evidence that indicates that fluoride at a controlled concentration is safe to use.”

What Kinds Of Ethical Scenario Questions May I Be Asked In A Dentistry Interview?

Question 1: A 25 year old woman comes to your dental practice because she is unhappy with the appearance of her teeth as she feels they look crooked. On examination, there is no clinical indication that she needs braces so she does not fit the criteria for braces on the NHS. The woman explains to you that her teeth make her very self-conscious and is causing her to feel depressed. Do you think this woman should be given braces on the NHS?

Question 2: A patient with dental anxiety comes into your practice. They are refusing to have a dental check-up without sedation. Discuss how you would manage this patient.

Question 3: A five year old patient comes in with severe dental decay and requires several teeth to be extracted. On speaking to the child’s mother they refuse to give consent for the child’s teeth to be extracted and do not believe that the child has any dental decay. Discuss how you would deal with this situation.


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