Autism and the dentist-patient relationship

As dentists and dental team members become more aware of autism, they must be prepared to care for their patients who struggle with the condition. A recent case in Chilliwack, B.C., involves the dentist’s right to dismiss a patient if a good clinical relationship between dentist and patient cannot be established.

Photo credit: Dreamstime.com
Photo credit: Dreamstime.com

Autism is loosely defined in Merriam-Webster as a condition or disorder that begins in childhood and that causes problems in forming relationships and in communicating with other people.

But anyone who has experienced autism knows that it can’t be described in one sentence.

As dentists and dental team members become more aware of autism, they must be prepared to care for their patients who struggle with the condition. Information is available from a variety of sources, from national organizations to the Internet, from medical professionals to books and care groups.

A recent case in Chilliwack, B.C., involves a 12-year-old patient, Sophia Filiatrault, with autism, whose parents have filed a complaint against a dentist, Dr. Yoon Jai Choi, who refused to treat their daughter even though the dental practice specializes in high-anxiety cases. Sophia reportedly refused to open her mouth and would not sit still. She was deemed untreatable.

The story was reported on CBC Radio-Canada. You can read the full article here.

The case hinges on the dentist’s right to dismiss a patient, and the College of Dental Surgeons of British Columbia says Dr. Choi has that right. As reported in the article, Jerome Marburg, registrar at the College said, "In order for there to be a good clinical relationship, there has to be a good relationship between the patient and the dentist. And sometimes, through no fault of either parties, that relationship cannot be established."

For more information about ethics and what constitutes a “good clinical relationship,” refer to the American Dental Association’s Principles of Ethics and Code of Professional Conduct or contact your attorney for legal advice.

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