Aren’t dentists doctors?
No. Dentists are not doctors for the following reasons:
1) They (Dentists) do not have a degree in medicine. An MBBS, who has the degree of ‘Bachelor of Medicine’, has, in addition, a degree in surgery / general surgery (the degree of ‘Bachelor of Surgery’). A dentist does not have a degree either in general medicine or general surgery. His limited scope of work is in dental surgery. That is why he is referred as a dentist, not as a doctor, in the Dentists Act, 1948.
2) The word ‘Doctor’ does not occur anywhere in the Dentists Act, 1948.
3) They (Dentists) are not eligible to join an association of doctors. They can only join an association of dentists.
4) If they were doctors, they would be licenced to practise medicine by the Medical Council. On the other hand, they are only licenced to practice dentistry by the Dental Council.
5) If they were doctors, the insurance companies offering indemnity insurance would not distinguish them from doctors.
6) If a dentist practises medicine as a doctor, he would be held guilty of negligence in accordance with the judgment in Poonam Verma case [Poonam
Verma Vs. Ashwin Patel and Others, reported as 1996 AIR 2111, 1996 SCC (4)
332], where the Supreme Court held as follows:
“40. Negligence has many manifestations − it may be active negligence, collateral negligence, comparative negligence, concurrent negligence, continued negligence, criminal negligence, gross negligence, hazardous negligence, active and passive negligence, wilful or reckless negligence or negligence per se, which is defined in Black’s Law Dictionary as under:
Negligence per se: Conduct, whether of action or omission, which may be declared and treated as negligence without any argument or proof as to the particular surrounding circumstances, either because it is in violation of a statute or valid municipal ordinance, or because it is so palpably opposed to the dictates of common prudence that it can be said without hesitation or doubt that no careful person would have been guilty of it. As a general rule, the violation of a public duty, enjoined by law for the protection of person or property, so constitutes”.
41. A person who does not have knowledge of a particular System of Medicine but practices in that System is a quack and a mere pretender to medical knowledge or skill, or to put it differently, a charlatan.
42. Where a person is guilty of negligence per se, no further proof is needed…”
7) The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) of UK held in the Woodvale Clinic case that – “We considered, however that the title ‘Dr’ before a dental practitioner’s name should not be used in ads unless the practitioner held a general medical qualification or unless it was made clear that it was a courtesy title only and that the practitioner did not hold a general medical qualification.”
The author, Dr M C Gupta, is a doctor turned lawyer and medico-legal expert. He holds an MD (Medicine) from All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), an LLB from Delhi University and LLM from Kurukshetra University. He has served as a faculty member at AIIMS for 18 years and as professor and dean at the National Institute of Health and Family Welfare. Currently, Dr Gupta is a practising advocate with health and medical law as the area of special interest. He is a member of the Supreme Court Bar Association and Indian Law Institute.