Ethical Issues and Cosmetic Dentistry

Your teenage daughter (age 15) wants porcelain veneers because the bleaching regime she’s following just isn’t making her smile bright enough. Plus her best friend just had it done.

Your mother has lost a tooth but she doesn’t want to wear removable dentures and instead wants an implant. But her dentist is telling you that at her age (79) and health (a long-time smoker) the chances of a successful recovery are smaller than if she were younger and didn’t smoke. Sepsis – a very dangerous and potential fatal illness caused by infection – also is a possibility due to your mom’s weakened (older) immune system.

Should your daughter and/or your mother have these procedures? back in March 2008 reported that the public, having grown aware (via television and the movies) of the “potential benefits of esthetic dental products, with bleaching products and veneers leading the way,” are practically demanding elective cosmetic dentistry (elective in that they are not performed as a result of a needed dental surgery).

Yet while many patients are thrilled with their new appearance, the trend has “not come without a cost,” the article continued, particularly, “the over-treatment of patients…especially as it pertains to veneers.”

In other words, are veneers and other “quick” cosmetic dental procedures being used too often on too many people when another less invasive or aggressive procedure could be used?

We can’t really speak to whether the teen’s veneers or the senior woman’s implants are ethical or not; these situations are pretty much up to the patient. (Also note that in the implant scenario mentioned above, the dentist is completely upfront with the patient and her adult child about the risks. If he hadn’t been, he could easily be accused minimally of bad dentistry and – especially if something were to go wrong during the implant procedure – possibly sued for malpractice.)

So it comes down to your family’s values. Just because a dentist can place veneers on a 15-year-old (although many dentists feel age 17 or 18 is the minimum age on which to perform such a procedure), does it mean you should let him? Should you allow your 15-year-old to have an elective cosmetic procedure? If you say yes, what are you telling your child? If you say no, what does that say to her?


In other words, elective cosmetic procedures are more than just a simple choice: they speak volumes about what we consider important. How we appear to others matters to us; it’s human nature and there’s nothing wrong with a bit of healthy vanity. But how much vanity is too much? How much are we willing to allow ourselves – and our loved ones – to change their appearance to reflect society’s beauty norm (a norm that’s ever changing, as well)?

Something to think about as you consider whether or not to undergo an elective cosmetic dental procedure.

As you mull over your decision, come to Plano dentist Dr. Darren Dickson with your questions and concerns. Contact our office by phone to schedule an appointment or send us an e-mail message at [email protected].

Image courtesy of Ambro/

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