ADA Principles of Ethics and Code of Professional Conduct
The dental profession holds a special position of trust within society. As a consequence, society affords the profession certain privileges that are not available to members of the public-at-large. In return, the profession makes a commitment to society that its members will adhere to high ethical standards of conduct. These standards are embodied in the ADA Principles of Ethics and Code of Professional Conduct (PDF). The ADA Code is, in effect, a written expression of the obligations arising from the implied contract between the dental profession and society.
Members of the ADA voluntarily agree to abide by the ADA Code as a condition of membership in the Association. They recognize that continued public trust in the dental profession is based on the commitment of individual dentists to high ethical standards of conduct.
The ADA Code has three main components: The Principles of Ethics, the Code of Professional Conduct and the Advisory Opinions.
The Principles of Ethics are the aspirational goals of the profession. They provide guidance and offer justification for the Code of Professional Conduct and the Advisory Opinions. There are five fundamental principles that form the foundation of the ADA Code: patient autonomy, nonmaleficence, beneficence, justice and veracity. Principles can overlap each other as well as compete with each other for priority. More than one principle can justify a given element of the Code of Professional Conduct. Principles may at times need to be balanced against each other, but, otherwise, they are the profession's firm guideposts.
The Code of Professional Conduct is an expression of specific types of conduct that are either required or prohibited. The Code of Professional Conduct is a product of the ADA's legislative system. All elements of the Code of Professional Conduct result from resolutions that are adopted by the ADA's House of Delegates. The Code of Professional Conduct is binding on members of the ADA, and violations may result in disciplinary action.
The Advisory Opinions are interpretations that apply the Code of Professional Conduct to specific fact situations. They are adopted by the ADA's Council on Ethics, Bylaws and Judicial Affairs to provide guidance to the membership on how the Council might interpret the Code of Professional Conduct in a disciplinary proceeding.
The ADA Code is an evolving document and by its very nature cannot be a complete articulation of all ethical obligations. The ADA Code is the result of an on-going dialogue between the dental profession and society, and as such, is subject to continuous review.
Although ethics and the law are closely related, they are not the same. Ethical obligations may—and often do—exceed legal duties. In resolving any ethical problem not explicitly covered by the ADA Code, dentists should consider the ethical principles, the patient's needs and interests, and any applicable laws.