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  • Tony

The Pillars of Ethics in Dentistry and Medicine: Dental MMI Tips

Updated: Jul 12, 2021

The first thing that you should do to prepare for your interviews is to look into the pillars of ethics. These should form the basis of any ethical/ decision making or scenario type questions that will definitely come up. Equally, knowing about the pillars is somewhat useful in the Situational Judgement Section of the UCAT. Here I explain what the pillars are and how the relate to dentistry.

A good point to think about is the distinction between law and ethics (click here for what I was reading). To summarise this distinction, Dr Paul Nisselle writes 'ethics drive our behaviour, not the law... [which] largely reflects ethics.' I feel like this is a very interesting (maybe not important for your interview) distinction. Another quote from the above page is "Medical practice is an ethical and legal minefield. So what helps us manage these dilemmas in an effective way? The answer is – rarely, the law, but commonly, ethics." For both doctors and dentists, ethics play a major role in the way patients are treated and I feel that it is important the the blurred intersection between laws and ethics is not overlooked.


The first Pillar is autonomy and it is the idea that patients are free to choose to do what they want (ignoring some caveats).

Issues and topics associated with autonomy include consent and confidentiality. This also includes things like the equality act- basically the patient has the right to choose whatever they want. See my post that covers all these issues here.


Beneficence is the idea of always having a patient's best interests at the forefront of you mind. This often requires some balancing with a patients autonomy (an important issue that will earn you points if you can bring it up in your interview), for example what would you do if a patient did not want something that was in their best interests?

Potential topics often include themes around consent (or lack of consent) especially with refusing treatment.


In short, non-maleficence means 'do no harm,' which is pretty self explanatory, A doctor or dentist should not harm a patient in any way (including neglect). TheMedicPortal provides a distinction between non-maleficence and beneficence. It states that maleficence acts as a threshold for treatment. Ie if a treatment does any harm (despite being net good) it should not be considered. Personally, I've never thought about these Pillars in this way, but maybe you'll find that useful.

Topics include negligence (like colleagues drinking) or crimes but also consent.


I feel that this pillar is less important than the previous ones. Basically, it is the idea of equality and fairness. Ie no one should be treated any better or worse than anyone else. I don't think I got a question around justice in my interview and I find it hard to see how an interviewer to as you one in the context of medicine and dentistry. I guess you may be given a scenario around people with different lifestyle choices and prioritising them (eg a smoker and and a pregnant woman both need dentures, who do you prioritise?)

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