Hong Kong Dental Council decision: disciplinary action for canvassing patients by dissemination of promotional materials

DC 2/1541/9/H

In its recent disciplinary decision, the Dental Council of Hong Kong (Dental Council) reprimanded a dentist for having sanctioned, acquiesced in or failed to take adequate steps to prevent its clinic assistant from disseminating promotional materials, namely toothpaste and pamphlets on the street.


In 2019, the Dental Council received a complaint in which the complainant alleged that a clinic assistant of the dentist’s clinic had distributed toothpaste and promotional pamphlets to passers-by to give publicity to the opening of the dentist’s new clinic and that those pamphlets were also placed outside the clinic. The complainant also enclosed a copy of the pamphlet for the Dental Council’s investigation.

Legal principles and guidelines

According to section 18(2) of the Dentists Registration Ordinance (Cap. 156), ‘unprofessional conduct’ means “an act or omission of a registered dentist which would reasonably be regarded as disgraceful or dishonourable by registered dentists of good repute and competency”. In determining whether a dental practitioner is guilty of unprofessional conduct, the Dental Council will give due regard to the Code of Professional Discipline for the Guidance of Dental Practitioners in Hong Kong (revised in December 2019) (the Code) published by Dental Council.

Section 1.1 of the Code governs the principles for good communication and accessible information. One of the underlying purposes behind the principles, as stated in section 1.1.3, is to protect persons seeking service and their families from persuasive influence and misleading advertisements. The Code provides that “promotion of dentists’ services as if the provision of dental care were no more than a commercial activity” will likely diminish the standard of dental care.

Practice promotion is defined under section to be “publicity for promoting the professional services of a dentist, his dental practice or his group…”. Practice promotion by dentists who are not their patients must comply with the specific requirements under section 1.3. Canvassing for the purpose of obtaining patients may lead to disciplinary proceedings.


The Dental Council found the dentist’s conduct to have fallen seriously below the standards expected of registered dentists, and he was therefore found to be guilty of the charge.

The nature of the pamphlets

The pamphlet showed the logo, name, contact telephone numbers and address of the dentist’s clinic, and a scaling service was offered at HK$200 (but limited in number). The Dental Council concluded that the pamphlets were coupons in substance which gave readers the impression that the offer was a bargain and limited.

Treating dental service as a commercial activity

The Dental Council observed from the dentist’s submission that he had the intention to disseminate these coupon-like pamphlets. It categorised such dissemination to be promotional tactics and found the dentist to be treating the dental service as “some kind of a commercial activity”, in contravention of the Code.

Whether the words “for circulation among the clinic’s patients only” can render the materials permitted practice promotion

The Dental Council, taking into account the allegation that the pamphlets and toothpaste were distributed to passers-by at a location where the clinic was in the vicinity, concluded that the aim or purpose of such distribution was to advertise and/or to canvass for businesses and patients. The dentist, in his own submission, also admitted that the promotional materials were provided to members of the public outside his clinic. Hence, it is possible that copies of the materials were given to non-patients. In sentencing the dentist, the Dental Council opined that, as suggested by the words “for circulation among the clinic’s patients only” on the pamphlet, it is very likely the dentist knew beforehand he could not distribute the pamphlets to others, yet he intended to do so. The sentence could have been heavier if there had been conclusive evidence that the dentist had knowingly breached the Code.


The Dental Council considered the gravamen of the offence serious. The Dental Council also commented that the dentist being an experienced practitioner should be well aware that the profession prohibits these kinds of promotional tactics which undermine public trust and confidence in the profession. Nevertheless, a few mitigating factors were taken into account in sentencing, including the lack of a previous disciplinary record and the dentist’s admission of the factual particulars of the case. The dentist was reprimanded. The order of reprimand was also published in the Gazette.


The Dental Council is seen to be standing strong in safeguarding the professional integrity of the profession and protecting patients and the public in Hong Kong. This decision serves as a useful reminder to dental practitioners that offering discounts or other offers may well be construed by the Dental Council as a commercial activity to canvass for patients.

Cases of practice promotion are not uncommon in the dental profession. Dental practitioners, before engaging in promotion of any form, should consider its nature and effect. Any promotional practices which bear the effect of canvassing for patients or provide financial incentives for receiving treatments are not permitted. Discounts and offers will likely be treated as rendering the provision of dental service a commercial activity. In case of doubt, it is advisable to refer to and comply with the provisions and guidance under the Code.