1: Accepting gifts
It's nice to be appreciated by patients who may want to give you a gift such as a bottle of wine or chocolates. In most cases gifts can be accepted, but ethical difficulties can arise when the patient's motive for gift giving might be unclear or misconstrued.
GDC guidance states that dental professionals must refuse any gifts, payment or hospitality if accepting them could affect, or could appear to affect, their professional judgment.
When accepting a gift, ensure that the patient understands their dental care would not be affected in any way. Seek advice from a senior dentist at the practice, from the DDU or your own defence organisation if you have concerns. You may also want to keep a record of these conversations and your reasons for accepting the gift, if you did so.
2: Social dentistry
Most of us take the chance to catch up with friends and family over the festive period. But what happens if a friend or family member asks about their dental treatment or wants your view on advice from their own dentist?
It's natural to want to help friends and family in any way we can and there is no absolute restriction on advising or treating relatives. However, bear in mind that a close relationship can make it difficult to form an objective view of the patient's health and clinical need and could influence the advice you provide. The GDC states dental professionals, 'must maintain appropriate boundaries in the relationships you have with patients,' and avoid taking advantage of your position.
Think twice before criticising the acts and omissions of the patient's current dentist without knowing the full facts. The last thing you want is for an angry patient to cite you in their dispute with their own dental practice.
Ultimately, each dental professional must make their own decision about whether they advise or treat friends and family. However, it's worth bearing in mind that having obliged once, you may be asked for similar advice repeatedly.
3: Professional behaviour
Party-season is a great time to celebrate your achievements and reward yourself for all your hard work over the last year. Of course mostly this is good natured, but occasionally an ill-judged post on social media could come back to haunt you and your practice.
The GDC expects dental professionals to 'Ensure that your conduct, both at work and in your personal life, justifies patients' trust in you and the public's trust in the dental profession.' With reference to social media, it says: 'Your online image can impact on your professional life and you should not post any information, including photographs and videos, which can bring the profession into disrepute.'
The DDU has a social media online learning module that can help you to understand the potential pitfalls, while earning CPD.
4: Emergency cover
Your practice may be closed over the holidays but your patients still need to know how to access treatment in an emergency, especially given the damage that traditional treats like nuts and toffees can have on fillings, crowns and dentures.
The GDC expects dental professionals to provide patients with clear information about their arrangements for emergency care. It's likely that your practice will communicate these out-of-hours arrangements via their website and on a notice in the waiting room. However, it's worth checking that your patients have these details, especially if they are in the middle of more complex and expensive treatment plans where a satisfactory result may depend on how quickly complications are addressed.
5: Time for reflection
It's important to give yourself some time to relax and recuperate over the holiday period, but if you have some spare time, you could also reflect on what has gone well over the year, what you could improve on and where your focus lies in the coming months.
If you read up on an area of practice which interests you or complete an online course, don't forget to consider how this is relevant to your own area of practice, how it helps you achieve your own development needs, and (if required) how it relates to the GDC's own CPD learning outcomes.
With a bit of forward planning, you can make the most of a well-earned break over the festive season, without encountering any dento-legal issues.
This piece was first published in Young Dentist, autumn 2018.
This guidance was correct at publication 29/11/2018. It is intended as general guidance for members only. If you are a member and need specific advice relating to your own circumstances, please contact one of our advisers.