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J Dent Hyg. 1990 Jun;64(5):217-24.

Survey of ethical issues in dental hygiene.

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  • 1Department of Dental Hygiene, College of Allied Health Sciences, University of Tennessee, Memphis.

Erratum in

  • J Dent Hyg 1990 Sep;64(7):352.


The purpose of this study was to determine the types and frequency of ethical problems encountered by dental hygienists, and to determine the type of instruction they have received in ethical theory and problem solving. A 40-item questionnaire mailed to 2,251 American Dental Hygienists' Association members resulted in a stratified random sample of 1,523 (68% response rate). The three ethical dilemmas most frequently encountered in dental hygiene practice are (1) observation of behavior in conflict with standard infection control procedures (66%); (2) failure to refer patients to a specialist such as a periodontist (60%); and (3) nondiagnosis of dental disease (58%). While almost 86% of the respondents received formal instruction in ethical theory, only 51% received formal instruction in methods for solving ethical problems. More hygienists (74%) felt their ethical principles were influenced by role models rather than by formal instruction (63%). This study indicates that serious ethical dilemmas are encountered by the majority of dental hygienists and that some modification of current entry-level education, as well as of continuing professional education, should be considered to prepare dental hygienists to recognize and resolve ethical problems.

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