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Professionalism in Healthcare and Its Role in Dentistry

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Being professional, a health professional’s values must align with the values listed in the code of conduct provided by respective dental councils/boards. But professionalism also goes beyond the code of conduct. Dentists should be aware of their social responsibility, the importance of political involvement and also their role in addressing environmental issues. Professionalism is a common term used in the medical industry. In the dictionary professionalism simply means “The competence or skill expected of a professional” (Oxford Dictionary, 2010). When we talk about professionalism in the dental or medical setting it is further defined as “an individual characterized by a display of high technical, intellectual and moral qualities and abilities” (Cooley, 2016). The society values the knowledge and skills medical professions have and in return, they expect high quality or standard of practice, conduct and competency from us. 

In Australia, the organization that help dental practitioners meet their obligations is the Australia Dental Association (ADA). The ADA is a not-for-profit organization established in 1928 with several objectives. The three main objectives are to support members by enhancing their competency to provide high quality, safe and professional dental care. To encourage the development of public oral health. Lastly, to promote ethics and technology of dentistry. Dental Board of Australia is the government body with members appointed by the Australia Health Workforce Ministerial Council. They develop codes and guidelines for the dental profession, handling complaints, investigation and disciplinary hearings and more. They are there to monitor the dental professions in Australia and uphold a high standard with guidelines and codes. The general public aspect of health care professionals to protect and foster the benefit of the public. Dr Tan believes that we as a health care provider are being paid for our professional service and advise, we should act accordingly. To Dr Tan adhering to a certain standard of quality in the deliverance of a goal or realization of a vision is a crucial quality. It is our obligation as a dentist to realise our social responsibility. Adherence to protocols, regulations and codes will ensure high-quality care we provide to our patients. Codes such as providing good care, effective communication with patients, uphold the ethical and legal obligations to protect patient privacy are there to guide us. Good communication includes acknowledging the level of health literacy varies from individuals, speaking in layman terms to patients so that they can understand. Respect patient privacy by avoiding sensitive and unnecessary questions. Not share patient information outside of the workplace. Sullivan stated the importance of the link between professionalism and the social contract. It is the dentist’s obligation of service to people before service to self.

Dental health care has long been perceived as a business-centred rather than patient-centred. We as a new generation of dentists should bear responsibility to build trust by placing our patients first. By doing so, they will place our dental practice first and there comes business. On-going development to improve the techniques and quality of care we provide is also a professional behaviour (Fricker, Kiley, Townsend, Trevitt, 2011) Dr Tan also touched on the importance of treating patients holistically and equally, respecting their beliefs, wishes without any discrimination. We also have the right to carry out what’s expected of us in the health care profession. To care for patients and optimize their health in a bio-psycho-social manner and preservation of patient autonomy to its maximum where possible is also our duty. One a larger scale, promoting oral health awareness is also a crucial part of our social responsibility. Being professional, a dentist should be aware that some of the dental materials and procedures we use in our practices may have a negative environmental effect. The realisation of these issues will allow us to seek a solution to tackle the problem. Although the environmentally unfriendly wastes generated by individual dentists are of a small amount, accumulated waste produced by the whole dental profession can have an environmental impact. 

The main problem dentists contribute to is heavy metal contamination by mercury and silver. Dental amalgam consists of 50% mercury by weight (Rogers, 1989). Dental amalgam restorations will generate a series of waste products, mercury vapour is one of them. Studies have shown the mercury vapour exposure from dental amalgams contributes to tissue burden in the Kidneys, glands and central nervous system. Our responsibility as a dental practitioner is to ensure the waste storage containers are collected by a registered agency. Dentists should never flush contaminated water down the sink and also never place material containing dental amalgam in general garbage (Anderson, 1999). Silver is another main dental practice waste that will potentially contaminate the water system. The silver thiosulfate in radiographic fixer whilst processing dental radiographs is a great environmental issue. Best way to prevent silver contamination is to install an in-house silver recovery unit, the waste can then be collected by registered agencies. Dentists are responsible for both the patient and their practice. Being aware of policy changes and actively involved in political discussions which will aid policy making to help improve the dental society, thus providing a safer and higher quality of care to patients. Dr Tan believes that being aware of policies and current health care issues is a part of our profession. He also mentioned our responsibility to work with relevant medical councils, identifying and joining relevant societies and associations as well as attending conferences to keep oneself updated and aware of the advances in relevant specialities. By doing the above, one will be able to gain more experience and enhance the quality of care. 

In conclusion, we as medical professionals should develop professionalism from the moment we start dental/medical school. The general public grants us the right to provide health care services to them, it is, therefore, our responsibility to act professionally. Professionalism definitely goes beyond the doctor-patient relationship. Dentists should be aware of their social responsibility, political involvement and also create awareness on environmental problems.  

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