Can Dentist Inform Parents of Teen's Smoking?

If parents are unaware of their teenager's smoking habit, does the dentist have a right to inform the parents? Is this information confidential?

Question:

Case law varies regarding this issue. The following response is based on California State Law which may or may not be considered current law when you read this response. Accordingly, it is best to consult an attorney for a definative answer.

If the patient is 18 years of age or older, they are legally considered an adult and all medical records are confidential.

If the patient is under 18 years-old, the answer to your question depends on how the smoking habit has affected the patient's dental condition.

If the dental treatment is unrelated to past smoking history, then there should be no reason for the dentist to disclose this information to parents.

However, if the patient is under 18, the dentist may require parental consent to treat a particular condition. Gum disease or oral cancer are examples where consent may be required for treatment. If consent is required, it would be best to have the patient tell their parents about their smoking habit. This will require courage, but it is better than putting off necessary dental care or having the parents find out from the dentist. Parents appreciate honesty and maturity. Of course, the most important advice is to quit using harmful tobacco products.

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