Coming to the decision to discharge a dental patient from care is not easy. No dentist wants to or enjoys doing so, but there are times in the dental-patient relationship when changing dentists is in the best interest of both the patient and the dentist. In those moments, an important step is writing a dental patient dismissal letter.

Dentists may decide to discharge a dental patient for several reasons, including:

  • If the patient has been non-compliant with treatment or appointments
  • If the dentist-patient relationship has been disturbed by litigation
  • If the dentist-patient relationship has been disturbed by non-payment
  • If there have been threats and abusive behavior by the patient or a family member

Whatever the reason is, dentists must notify the patient in writing that the patient is being discharged from care.

In the dental patient dismissal letter, you may state a general reason for discharge, like “There has been a disruption in the dentist/patient relationship.” You also have the option of giving the patient a defined reason. In the case of discharge for noncompliance, you may state, “You have been non-compliant with my recommendations for care and treatment.”

If you have received a request for records from an attorney, have been sued by the patient or are merely uncomfortable in continuing to treat the patient, a reason does not have to be stated or you may use the disruption in the dentist/patient relationship as the reason.

The discharge letter should provide resources which will assist the patient to obtain a new dentist, such as the name and phone number of the local district dental society. We do not recommend that you list the names of specific dentists. Mercado May-Skinner (MMS) has sample dental patient dismissal letters which can be modified for your use in discharging patients from your care.

It is important to give the patient a reasonable amount of time to seek a new dentist, taking into consideration the patient’s course of treatment and the availability of alternative care without interruption. Often 30 days from the date of the letter will be sufficient notice, during which time you agree to be available for emergencies only. But, if the patient has an urgent or serious dental condition, dentists should not discharge the patient until the patient has immediate access to alternative care so there is no gap in treatment.

It is possible that the patient will request a refund upon receiving the discharge letter. It is important for dentists to know that there may be an issue with their MLMIC or other professional liability insurer if a refund is offered because there are provisions in the MLMIC policy that prevent dentists from taking an action that could hurt a potential defense in the case of future litigation. Offering a refund could be seen as an admission of liability. If a refund is offered, the patient should sign a general release.

When dentists encounter challenging situations with patients and it is necessary to discharge a dental patient, it is important to remember that you do not have to handle it alone. MLMIC policyholders can contact a team of risk management professionals 24/7 at no additional cost by calling (844) MMS-LAW1 or emailing

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