Patient Rights to Dental Records in Massachusetts

The purpose of this page is to give you a summary of, and links to, resources that help you understand what your rights are as it pertains to having your dental records transferred to a new dentist. This is not legal advice, but a reference guide to help you determine what your rights are, and who to go to if you think your rights have been violated. In the event that you need specific guidance, we suggest you find a qualified attorney, one who understands the Massachusetts laws pertaining to dental patient rights.

As it pertains to Songbird dental, we acknowledge that it isn’t a pleasant experience to tell your current dentist you are leaving them. As such, should you ever feel the need to leave our practice here is what you can expect from us.

  1. We will be sad to see you go, but will do everything we can to transfer your records as quickly as we can.
  2. We will not require that you have a conversation with us to in any way place a burden on you to reconsider staying with us. While we hate to see you go, we understand that it happens from time to time. We don’t sell used cars and will not treat you like you are buying one.
  3. We will wish you the best, and let you know that you are welcome back any time you think you would like to return.

Anyway, on to the important stuff..

Summary of Your Rights

As a patient of dental care, your dental care professional is obligated, no, “has a duty to respect the patient’s rights to self-determination and confidentiality.”  (Source: ADA Code of Ethics)

This means, you have the right to choose who provides your treatment, and the type of treatment they provide to you, specifically, as an individual with unique needs.

As part of this duty, and as it pertains to your dental records, “A dentist has the ethical obligation on request of either the patient or the patient’s new dentist to furnish in accordance with applicable law, either gratuitously or for nominal cost, such dental records or copies or summaries of them, including dental X-rays or copies of them, as will be beneficial for the future treatment of that patient. This obligation exists whether or not the patient’s account is paid in full.”

Please note, your new dentist cannot request the records transfer. The request must come from you, or someone you designate as having the authority to make the request. Your prior provider may have a formal records request policy that should be documented. If not, in many cases, a phone call or email requesting your records should be sufficient.

What is the law in Massachusetts?

Under Massachusetts Law, you have the right to request copies of your dental records, for your own records, or to be sent to a new dentist, should you decide to receive care from a new dental professional. (Section 12CC: Health care providers; inspection of records)

As is governed by state law, you may incur a fee to cover the cost that your prior dentist might incur to furnish your new dentist with your records. That is determined by the laws covered by Chapter 111, Section 70.

If you ask Songbird to transfer your records, we will happily do so in a timely manner, and charge you no fee. We don’t believe you should be charged for wanting to transfer your records to the dentist of your choice.

You should also know that your prior dentist, as required by law, “shall not require payment for dental services rendered as a condition of providing a copy of the dental record. A dentist may offer to provide the patient with a summary of the patient’s record, but the summary shall not be in lieu of the complete patient record if requested.”

What should be included in my records?

The law says, “the patient record shall be a complete record of all patient contact, including, but not limited to, a general description of the patient’s medical and dental history and status at time of examination, diagnoses, patient education, treatment plan, referral for specialty treatment, medications administered and prescribed, pre- and post- treatment instructions and information conveyed to the patient pursuant to M.G.L. c. 112, §§ 43 through 53 and 234 CMR 2.00.” 

This means that pretty much anything that has been documented about you as it pertains to your dental care history is part of the records you have rights to transfer, and should be included in the transfer should your new dentist require access.

How long should you expect to wait for your prior dentist to submit your records to your new dentist?

The law says that your prior dentist is legally obligated to transfer your records in “reasonable amount of time, not to exceed 30 days.” At Songbird, our promise to you is, unless there are circumstances that make it impossible to deliver your records to your new dentist, we will do our best to transfer your records within 2 days of your request. Circumstances that may delay the transfer are primarily related to availability of our team, or the operational hours of our practice should your request come at a time when we are not open.

What should you do if your prior dentist is making it difficult for you to transfer your records to your new dentist?

If you feel that your prior dentist is creating obstacles that mitigate your ability to receive the dental care you need, from the dentist you prefer when you need the treatment, you should file a complaint immediately using the dental complaint form provided by the MA Board of Dentistry.

Additional Resources

Massachusetts Board of Registration in Dentistry

Requirements for the Practice of Dentistry

ADA on Patient Autonomy

ADA on Electronic Health Records

ADA on Dental Records

Complaint Form