Regulation of Dental Advertising

Regulation of Dental Advertising

The primary role of dentists is to deliver dental care to their patients. Dentists often also find themselves operating businesses and seeking to attract patients to their offices. The Royal College of Dental Surgeons of Ontario (RCDSO) permits dentists to advertise their services but regulates these advertisements. Dentists may be subject to complaints and professional consequences for violating the regulations. What follows is our brief overview of the regulation of dental advertising. 

The definition of “advertisement” is expansive and includes: 

  • advertisements 
  • flyers 
  • websites 
  • advertorials 
  • newsletters 
  • business cards 
  • stationery 
  • logos 
  • signage 
  • announcements 
  • other information related to the dentist/dental practice, regardless of the form or manner of distribution; this may include personal social media accounts. 

Under the Dentistry Act and its regulations, it may be an act of professional misconduct for dentists to publish, display, distribute or use promotional materials containing information that: 

  • is false, unclear, or misleading 
  • is not verifiable, such as personal testimonials 
  • uses superlatives, such as “cutting edge,” which suggest higher quality products or services than those of other providers
  • suggests uniqueness or superiority over other dentists 
  • is likely to create expectations of favourable results or appeal to the public’s fears 
  • makes reference to continuing education, memberships, or degrees or diplomas that were not required to obtain a certificate of registration with the College 
  • makes reference to practice areas/procedures/ treatments without disclosing if the dentist is a general practitioner or a specialist, and without disclosing the dentist’s specialty, if applicable. 

It is also a violation of the regulations for dentists to use incentive programs, including giveaways, contests, draws or free products or services, or to advertise fees in a misleading manner. Even if they are not personally involved with the dissemination of promotional material pertaining to their practice or person, dentists remain accountable if they directly or indirectly cause or permit the dissemination of any advertising or promotion of their dental practice. 

According to the RCDSO’s Practice Advisory on Professional Advertising, “the basic purpose and intent of regulating dental advertising is to protect the public and to ensure that advertisements by dentists do not demean the integrity and dignity of the profession.” Rocket v. Royal College of Dental Surgeons of Ontario is the leading case on the regulation of dental advertising. In Rocket, the Supreme Court of Canada found that such regulation is permissible and constitutes a reasonable limit on dentists’ freedom of expression under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Consumers of dental services generally lack the kind of professional training that might assist them in evaluating claims regarding the

quality of different dentists. Unlike some other consumer goods, dental services are too significant to the public’s health and well-being not to be regulated. According to the Court, regulation protects the public by ensuring that its lack of knowledge is not exploited. The goal, ideally, is to maintain trust in the dental profession. 

The definition of advertisement includes “other statements,” which significantly broadens the scope of what kind of content is regulated. The Courts have found that publications and statements are advertisements/promotional materials when they intend to: 

a) impart information to patients, or 

b) promote a dentist. 

For example, when dentists publish memoirs or tweets while holding themselves out to the public as dentists, such content can engage the RCDSO’s attention. The Courts have held that when an individual identifies as a dentist and makes inflammatory statements, there is a rational connection between ensuring respect for the dental profession and

Dentists should carefully consider how their advertisements and public statements might be interpreted by members of the public. Dentists who intend to advertise, use social media, or make any public statements should consult the RCDSO’s policies or consult with their Practice Advisory Service, and/or should seek legal counsel if there are any concerns. We have also learned that, recently, the RCDSO has formed a working group to modernize advertising regulation, thus there is potential for significant changes to address the evolving technological and advertising landscape. 

A dentist or the RCDSO may appeal a decision of the Discipline Committee to the Divisional Court. 

Josh Koziebrocki, LLB, BA (Hons), is the principal lawyer and founder of Koziebrocki Law. He represents numerous dentists and has extensive experience dealing with regulatory issues. He can be reached at 416-925-5445. |

Reprinted with permission of the Ontario Dental Association and Ontario Dentist, 2019