Ethics of dental health screening

Chandrashekar Janakiram, Farheen Taha

Abstract

Screening is the detection of disease at a point in its natural history when it is not yet symptomatic. In the natural history of dental caries, for example, the incipient lesions are at a reversible stage, which is a pre-symptomatic or an unrecognised symptomatic disease. Ideally, this is the stage during which screening should identify the risk of dental caries; however, presently, the so-called dental screening employed identifies the clinical cavitation of the tooth, which is very obvious to the individual. The individual already knows that he/she has dental caries and needs treatment, which the screening personnel (dental doctor) explains again during the screening procedure. Is it ethical to call such an event screening? The mushrooming of dental teaching hospitals has promoted regular screening of dental diseases among the communities and schoolchildren through their community dentistry-related activities. More often, it is a dental “check-up” that is carried out on the pretext of screening for dental diseases. Though the basic intention of this activity is to promote awareness of dental diseases and promote good health, there is also a hidden agenda to it. An artificial demand for dental care is created that is easily capitalised on by the dental teaching institutions to enhance its clinical activity. Dental screening is doing more harm than good as patients are made aware of the diseases for which they may not be able to afford treatment. This narrative review gives an account of the scientific evidence on screening for oral diseases, the current practices in screening and the ethical dilemmas of dental screening programmes.

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