Guidelines for Advertising by Dentists
The Board of Regents of the American College of Dentists recognizes that advertising is legal. However, it does not encourage or support advertising by dentists and feels that any form of advertising by dentists is demeaning to the profession, is not in the best interests of the public, and is not in keeping with its perception of professionalism. If however, Fellows of the College feel that they must advertise, such advertising should be in compliance with the position of the College, “Guidelines for Advertising by Dentists.”
The courts have sought to define the nature and extent of permissible advertising by professionals. In a series of decisions, the U.S. Supreme Court has held that professional advertising, which is not false or misleading, is commercial speech entitled to protection under the First Amendment of the Constitution.
Pending further clarification by the courts, some advertising practices exist which may be detrimental. Some forms of advertising may adversely affect public perceptions about the dental profession itself. For example, empirical evidence suggests that undignified advertising can detract from the public’s confidence in and respect for the dental profession. Under present law, the matter of dignity is widely believed to be so subjective as to be beyond the scope of constitutionally permitted regulating. Nevertheless, it seems entirely proper for the American College of Dentists to suggest non-binding aspirational goals for dentists who wish to advertise so that they may do so in a dignified manner. Although only aspirational, such goals must be scrupulously sensitive to the fundamental constitutional rights of dentists and the needs of the public. It is the role and responsibility of dentists to provide dental health care to the public. It is also the dental professions’ responsibility to inform the public about the availability of dental services.
Advertising is one of the many methods by which dentists may inform the public about dental care. Although most people find dentists through word-of-mouth networks of family, friends, and work associates, when properly done, advertising may help people to better understand the dental care available to them and how to obtain that care.
Individual dentists are at all times representatives of the dental profession, and as such, they have a special obligation to assure that their conduct conforms to the highest ideals of the profession. Thus, dentists who advertise should be mindful not only of the effect their advertising may have on their own professional image, but also of the effect it may have on the public’s overall perception of the dental profession.
Advertising which is false, misleading, or deceptive, may be prohibited by State Law or Code of Ethics. Furthermore, it is the belief of this College that when advertising, though not false, misleading, or deceptive, degenerates into undignified and unprofessional presentations, the public is not served. Thus, the dentist who advertises does not benefit, and the image of the dental profession may be harmed.
The following aspirational goals are not intended to establish mandatory requirements which might form the basis for disciplinary enforcement. The American Dental Association’s Principles of Ethics and Codes of Professional Conduct and Advertising Rules of State Boards of Dentistry establish the standards which all dentists who advertise must meet. Rather, these aspirational goals are intended to provide suggested objectives which all dentists who engage in advertising their services should be encouraged to achieve in order that the dental advertising may reflect the professionalism of the dental community.
While “dignity” and “good taste” are terms open to subjective interpretation, dentists should consider that advertising which reflects the ideals stated in the following Aspirational Goals is likely to be dignified and suitable to the profession.
- Advertising by dentists should encourage and support the public’s confidence in the individual dentist’s competence and integrity and the commitment of the dental profession to serve the public’s dental needs in the tradition of dentistry as a learned profession.
- Advertising by dentists should help the public understand its dental needs and the dental care delivery process, and should uphold the dignity of the dental profession.
- Since advertising must be truthful and accurate, and not false, misleading, or deceptive, dentists should realize that ambiguous or confusing advertising can be misleading.
- Particular care should be taken to describing fees in advertisements. If an advertisement states a specific fee for a particular service, it should make clear whether or not all similar problems can be handled for that specific fee. Also care should be taken in describing the dentist’s areas of practice and competency.
- Dentists should consider that the use of inappropriately dramatic music, unseemly slogans, premium offers, slapstick routines, or outlandish settings in advertising does not instill confidence in the dentist or the dental profession and undermines the serious purpose of dental services and the dental health care system.
- Dental advertising should avoid creating false or unjustifiable expectations of favorable results or appealing primarily to a lay person’s fears.
ACD Policy on Advertising
Guidelines for defining false, misleading, or deceptive advertising include any, or all of, but are not limited to, the following:
- misrepresentation of fact;
- misleading or deceiving because in context the advertisement makes only a partial disclosure of relative facts;
- intending to create false or unjustified expectations of favorable results;
- implying unusual circumstances;
- misrepresenting fees which do not disclose all variables and other relevant factors;
- intending to imply or to guarantee atypical results; or
- containing a representation or implication regarding the quality of dental services which would suggest unique or general superiority to other practitioners which are not susceptible to reasonable-verification by the public.
The advisory opinions of the ADA Council on Ethics, Bylaws, and Judicial Affairs may be used by the College for additional interpretation of what constitutes false, misleading, and deceptive advertising.
These Guidelines for Advertising by Dentists are supported by the Code of Conduct and were adopted on October 1988 and amended October 1989.