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What Is the ADA Patient’s Bill of Rights?

Whether you’re starting at a new dentist (welcome!) or a longtime patient, it's vitally important as a patient that you know your rights. That’s why organizations like the National Institutes of Health, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and, yes, even the American Dental Association have their own "Patient’s Bill of Rights" to show patients what they can – and should – expect when being treated by a clinician.

Though many doctors have their own specific bills of rights for their patients, there is generally very little difference from doctor to doctor. Here is the American Dental Association (ADA) Patient’s Bill of Rights, and what it means for you as a dental patient.

1. You have a right to choose your own dentist and schedule an appointment in a timely manner.

This means that as a patient, you are free to select your own dentist, and you have a right to be seen by that dentist without an extensive delay. You cannot face scheduling delays as a repercussion for a disagreement with a staff member.

2. You have a right to know the education and training of your dentist and the dental care team.
Have you ever noticed when you go to a dentist or doctor’s office, there are copies of the doctor’s and dental assistant’s licenses posted in plain sight, and the dentist’s medical degree posted as well? You may also see a board certification posted. That’s because not only do most states require these documents to be posted, but doing so also provides the patient with peace of mind and a means to conduct a background check.

3. You have a right to arrange to see the dentist every time you receive dental treatment, subject to any state law exceptions.
Often you will go to a dentist, only to be seen by an assistant or nurse practitioner. This practice allows more patients to be seen sooner - but sometimes patients simply need to speak to the dentist. This right guarantees you the ability to speak to your dentist whether or not he or she is the one who provided your treatment that day.

4. You have a right to adequate time to ask questions and receive answers regarding your dental condition and treatment plan for your care.
Have you ever been to a doctor and felt rushed through your appointment? It happens more often than you think, but just because it happens doesn’t mean it should happen. That’s why the patient’s bill of rights guarantees patients the right to have adequate time to discuss their oral health with their dentist.

5. You have the right to know what the dental team feels is the optimal treatment plan as well as the right to ask for alternative treatment options.
When a dental problem arises, you should feel confident your dental team has your best interest at heart and will provide you with the best care possible. But when you aren’t comfortable with the proposed treatment plan, you have the right as a patient to ask for that plan to be modified.

6. You have a right to an explanation of the purpose, probable (short- and long-term) results, alternatives and risks involved before consenting to a proposed treatment plan.
When you have a procedure done at the dentist’s office, it is your right as a patient to ask what is being done, why it’s being done, and what possible results and side effects may occur. This can help you make the most informed decision possible about your oral health needs.

7. You have a right to be informed of continuing heath care needs.
If your dentist notices that you have gum disease or another condition that could remain or worsen over time, you have the right to be told that you have the condition and that you may need to treat it at length.

8. You have a right to know in advance the expected cost of treatment.
No sticker shock here! As a patient, you have the right to know the cost of your treatment up front - before you agree to pay it - so there are no surprises and no misunderstandings after your procedure.

9. You have a right to accept, defer or decline any part of your treatment recommendations.
While we don’t recommend patients pick and choose which treatment options they’d like, you as a patient have the right to do just that. Whether you cannot afford a procedure or you simply don’t want it, as the patient it is your right to choose to have it done or not.

10. You have a right to reasonable arrangements for dental care and emergency treatment.
While this can be interpreted in many ways, the ADA specifies this particular right means that if there is an emergency, your dentist is expected to provide emergency care and not make you wait. The same applies for visiting a new dentist in an emergency. Furthermore, if you do visit a new dentist in a dental emergency, that dentist is not permitted to prevent you from returning to your old dentist.

11. You have a right to receive considerate, respectful and confidential treatment from your dentist and dental team.
You as a patient have the right to receive respectful, kind and private care at the dentist, just like you would at any other doctor’s office. Your dental team cannot be rude to you for having poor oral hygiene, nor can they gossip about you or your health to anyone else.

12. You have a right to expect the dental team members to use appropriate infection and sterilization controls.
This is a no-brainer with all the bloodborne pathogens around out there. As a patient you have the right to have clean, sterile tools during your procedure.

13. You have a right to inquire about the availability of processes to mediate disputes about your treatment.
If you are unsure or unhappy about your treatment or proposed treatment, you have the right to speak to the dental staff about scheduling a mediation between yourself and your dental team.

If you have any further questions about your rights as a patient, please call Dr. Abelar’s office at 858-866-9692.

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