The Hippocratic Oath is a promise by a medical professional to “do the right thing”— a moral code of ethical conduct and practice in medicine. At medical school graduations, doctors swear this oath to leave them with one more reminder as to where their professional focus should lie.
Do dentists take the Hippocratic Oath and if not, should they have to?
A Dentist’s Duty Is To Serve The People
A dentist’s most important duty is to maintain the oral health of his clients. Similarly to doctors, most dentists choose this profession to help people—not just to collect a paycheck. A dentist’s salary ranks among the highest in any profession and the typical four-day work week can make a dentist’s job seem attractive from a superficial standpoint.
Even so, the educational path to becoming a licensed dentist (or doctor) is long and arduous, filtering out anyone that isn’t in a program for the right reasons. So who is Hippocrates and how is he involved in ethics of health and medicine?
Who Was Hippocrates?
Hippocrates was an ancient Greek physician known for his ethical standards in medical practice. He’s often called the “Father of Modern Medicine”, due to his pioneering approach to medicine using rational conclusions instead of religious beliefs and
Hippocrates was born in 460 bc on the Greek island of Cos. His first experience with medicine came from his own family—both his father and grandfather were doctors. Hippocrates’ contributions to medicinal health led him to establish the Hippocratic School of Medicine, which revolutionized medicine in ancient Greece. Until that time, people’s physical health was left to “prayers to the Gods” Hippocrates made medicine a formal field based on factual evidence.
What is the Hippocratic Oath?
Hippocrates is best known as the foundation for the Hippocratic Oath, which states the obligations and proper conduct of a practicing doctor. Parts of the oath are still used in most medical schools.
The oath is a summary of sixty medical writings that bear Hippocrates’ name. Most of these were not actually written by Hippocrates, but instead are a direct reflection of his teachings. Each declaration is simple and direct, earnest in its desire to help, and lacking in technical jargon and elaborate argument.
The Hippocratic Oath
“I swear to fulfill, to the best of my ability and judgment, this covenant:
I will respect the hard-won scientific gains of those physicians in whose steps I walk, and gladly share such knowledge as is mine with those who are to follow.
I will apply, for the benefit of the sick, all measures [that] are required, avoiding those twin traps of overtreatment and therapeutic nihilism.
I will remember that there is art to medicine as well as science, and that warmth, sympathy, and understanding may outweigh the surgeon’s knife or the chemist’s drug.
I will not be ashamed to say “I know not,” nor will I fail to call in my colleagues when the skills of another are needed for a patient’s recovery.
I will respect the privacy of my patients, for their problems are not disclosed to me that the world may know. Most especially must I tread with care in matters of life and death. If it is given me to save a life, all thanks. But it may also be within my power to take a life; this awesome responsibility must be faced with great humbleness and awareness of my own frailty. Above all, I must not play at God.
I will remember that I do not treat a fever chart, a cancerous growth, but a sick human being, whose illness may affect the person’s family and economic stability. My responsibility includes these related problems, if I am to care adequately for the sick.
I will prevent disease whenever I can, for prevention is preferable to cure.
I will remember that I remain a member of society, with special obligations to all my fellow human beings, those sound of mind and body as well as the infirm.
If I do not violate this oath, may I enjoy life and art, respected while I live and remembered with affection thereafter. May I always act so as to preserve the finest traditions of my calling and may I long experience the joy of healing those who seek my help.”
A Dentist’s Oath
Although mainly used by doctors, the Hippocratic Oath is often translated to a dentist’s context. Below is a line from the Hippocratic Oath of the University of Hong Kong’s Faculty of Dentistry.
“I will remember that I do not treat a decayed tooth or a cancerous growth, but a sick human being whose illness may affect the person’s family and their economic stability. My responsibility includes these related problems, if I am to care adequately for the sick.”
We should hope to have dental care that reflects this same empathy and transparency.