Informed Consent: What Dentists Need to Know

When you obtain informed consent, you’re creating a legal doctrine that protects you as the dentist while also protecting your patients’ rights. Staying knowledgeable about informed dental consent – what it is, who needs to procure it and when it’s necessary, for example – can help you follow current best practices.

Here is a brief summary of common questions our policyholders ask. For more detailed answers, please read expanded responses to the questions here.

What is informed consent?

Informed consent is the legal doctrine affirming a patient’s right to determine and control his/her own dental treatment. In essence, it is the discussion that takes place between the dentist who is rendering care and the patient.

Who is responsible for procuring informed consent?

It is the responsibility of the treating dentist to provide information and explanations that will assist patients in their decision-making process. The patient’s consent must be voluntary, competent and informed. The patient must have capacity, i.e. the ability to understand the nature and consequences of the treatment.

Do all procedures require informed consent?

Although it is always good practice and important for a dentist to explain to a patient the treatment he/she is rendering, obtaining an informed consent in New York State is only statutorily necessary for a non-emergency treatment, procedure or surgery or if the diagnostic procedure involves an invasion or disruption of the integrity of the body. A dentist is not required to obtain an informed consent if the procedure is an emergency and necessary treatment would be delayed by trying to obtain consent.

Can minors give informed consent?

Generally, the New York statute considers children under the age of 18 as minors. When the patient is a minor, consent for his/her dental treatment must generally be obtained from the parent or legal guardian. There are some notable exceptions to this which you can find here.

After having the consent form signed, should I write a note in the chart regarding the discussion with a patient?

Absolutely yes! The note should be dated and should state the following: “The risks, benefits and alternatives, including no treatment and risks of the alternatives, were discussed with the patient. The risks discussed included, but were not limited to . . .” We recommend that you list a few of the most severe and a few of the most frequent risks or complications. This type of documentation will confirm and be evidence that a discussion with the patient actually took place.

Informed consent protects both the patient and the dentist. Keeping a detailed log of your informed consent conversations documents your due diligence and will be useful in the event of a claim. Make sure you know the ins and outs of informed consent by reading more extensive entries in our informed consent FAQs for dentists.