Ethical communication and brand building

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Ethical communication and brand building

It is essential for dental professionals to balance marketing opportunities with responsible patient care and transparent communication. (Image: Drazen Zigic/Shutterstock)

Thu. 2 May 2024


As communication and marketing through social media become indispensable for cutting through the clutter of media communication, the dental industry—especially in the field of aesthetic dentistry—faces novel challenges in upholding ethical integrity alongside brand development. This challenge is particularly acute in orthodontics, a specialty experiencing a marked increase in online and social media marketing, which has in turn driven demand for aligner-based treatments. In this article, I explore strategies that allow dentists to build strong and enduring brand identities through ethical and fact-based communication and evidence-based dental procedures.

Cosmetic dentistry and orthodontics in the spotlight

The growing trend of aesthetic dentistry, in particular products like aligners, has led to increased demand through social media. While these platforms offer exceptional opportunities for marketing and patient education, they also bring challenges related to ethics and patient welfare. Dentists face the difficulty of navigating this landscape while maintaining focus on the patient’s unique medical needs and safety. It is important that dental professionals not only highlight the aesthetic aspects of treatments, but also thoroughly evaluate the patient’s needs and wishes holistically and inform them about medical considerations and potential risks relevant to their individual situation. Dentists should always, as the very foundation, prioritise balanced and objective information delivery to patients in the light of the four principles of autonomy, beneficence, non-maleficence and justice, described by Beauchamp and Childress.1 It is important to succeed in establishing a patient–dentist relationship which could lead to optimum clinical outcomes while respecting the wishes of the patient and promoting his or her best interests.

Furthermore, Smorthit and Cooper highlight the need for dentists to combat misunderstandings and exaggerated expectations that can arise through social media,2 where posts may be unrealistic and not representative of the day-to-day dentistry achieved by most practitioners. By engaging in authentic and ethical marketing, dentists can contribute to a more informed and healthy view of aesthetic dentistry.

Furthermore, it is important for dentists to continue to update their knowledge of and skills in using new technologies to offer the most effective and tailored care possible. Continuing professional development is crucial for maintaining a high standard of patient-centred care.

Challenges with product-centred marketing

An excessive focus on specific products, often seen in marketing campaigns for dental products, can lead to the overshadowing of dentists’ professional judgement and of individual patient assessments. This type of marketing risks minimising the clinical and functional aspects of orthodontics, crucial for the patient’s long-term health and well-being. It is important that dentists balance the need to be informed about new treatment options with the responsible presentation of these products. If not handled correctly, product-centred marketing can lead to patients choosing treatments that may not be the best option for their specific situation.

Holden et al. emphasise that dentists should be careful not to let commercial interests dictate treatment recommendations.3 Instead, they should strive to provide a complete and objective overview of all available treatment options, including potential risks and benefits. It is crucial that products are not presented as universal solutions but as part of a tailored treatment plan. This requires a careful assessment of each patient’s unique medical needs and desires. By including the patient in all treatment decisions, dentists can ensure that they provide the highest standard of care.4

Ethics and brand building

Dentists should strive to build their brands by emphasising the importance of ethics, patient welfare and scientifically supported treatment methods. By integrating these important values into all aspects of their practice, including patient communication and marketing materials, dentists can strengthen their patients’ trust. This support the creation of a brand synonymous with reliability and professionalism.

A strong ethical foundation in brand building also helps differentiate a dental practice from practices who may use less responsible marketing strategies. Patient-based brand equity and the various ways that current pioneer marketing entities can build and maintain a positive public image of a dental practice.5

Additionally, emphasising scientifically supported treatment methods strengthens dentists’ reputation as experts in their field. Research has shown that evidence-based dentistry enhances outcomes for both practitioners and patients in terms of the provision of proven and effective treatment, reduced harm to patients and increased patient trust.6

Building a brand based on ethical principles and patient welfare is not only the right thing to do, it is a smart business strategy that benefits both patients and practices.

Education and transparency

It is crucial that dentists educate their patients about the various treatment options, including the benefits, the risks and realistic expectations. By providing comprehensive and easy-to-understand information, dentists can help patients understand the complexities of orthodontic treatments and the underlying factors behind each recommendation.

This educational process is a central part of promoting transparent communication, which is essential for patients to make well-informed decisions about their dental care. Transparency in communication includes being open about any limitations or uncertainties that may exist regarding certain treatments, and acknowledging risks helps build a trusting relationship between dentists and patients.7

Transparency of care is not only an ethical obligation for dentists, but also improves the patient’s experience and treatment outcome, and this in turn can lead to patient loyalty and boost the practice’s reputation.

Patient in focus

Future dentistry should include a shift towards patient-centred care, where each treatment decision is based on the patient’s specific needs and desires, rather than market trends and the hype around certain products, for example. This focus prioritises the patient’s well-being and individual goals, crucial for achieving optimal care results.

In a patient-centred care model, a thorough understanding of the patient’s unique medical situation and individual expectations is key to success. Listening to and involving the patient in the decision-making process by visualising a target set-up supports patient-centred care.

The practitioner–patient relationship and use of technology are central to patient engagement and to improving the patient experience.8 By centring the patient in all dental procedures, dentists can ensure that they meet patients’ expectations and contribute to a more positive and effective care experience.

It is crucial that dentists stay updated on the latest research and technology in their field in order to ensure the best possible treatment outcomes for their patients and to maintain a high standard of patient-centred care. Undertaking continuing science-based education and professional development activities is crucial for keeping pace with the rapid changes in aesthetic dentistry.9

It is also important for dentists to continue to update their knowledge of and skills in using new technologies to offer the most effective and tailored care possible.


Owing to the commercialisation of our profession, dentists stand at a crossroads where we must find a balance between building a brand and adhering to the ethical principles fundamental to the profession. By prioritising the patient’s best interests and advocating for evidence-based and tailored orthodontic care, dentists can build successful, respected and sustainable brands.

Editorial note:

This article was published in aligners—international magazine of aligner orthodontics vol. 3, issue 1/2024. A complete list of references can be found here.

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