Ethics: The 5 Promises ADA Dentists Make to Their Patients

ADA member decal logo image
When it comes to choosing a dentist, character counts. In a 2015 survey by the American Dental Association, 69 percent of people polled said they were more likely to choose an ADA member the next time they were looking for a dentist.

The reasons why are simple. Patients who took the survey said they appreciate the patient-first promise that ADA dentists make as part of the association's code of ethics. "To me, nothing matters more than doing what I do ethically, honestly and to the best of my ability," says American Dental Association spokesperson Dr. Matthew Messina.

Here's a breakdown of the 5 pledges dentists make in the ADA Principles of Ethics and Code of Professional Conduct and what you can expect at your next appointment.

Respect for a Patient's Wants and Needs

As a patient, you have the right to be involved in decisions about your treatment and to expect privacy and confidentiality. "The code reminds all dentists that they have the duty to put the patient first, to involve the patient in treatment decisions in a meaningful way and to treat the patient taking into account the patient's desires, as long as those desires are within the bounds of accepted treatment," says Dr. Linda Himmelberger.

Do No Harm

Your dentist’s duty is to keep you safe and healthy. Part of this is keeping his or her knowledge and skills current and referring patients to specialists when necessary. “To ‘Do No Harm’ is really the Golden Rule,” says Dr. Jane Gillette. “Dentists practice ‘Do No Harm’ in many ways, but one universal expression is dedication to keeping their knowledge and skills up-to-date. New science and technology can quickly emerge. In response, dentists complete a tremendous number of hours in continuing education annually to provide patients with the highest level of science-based effective and safe care.”

Do Good

This means your dentist provides high-quality and timely treatment, while considering your needs, desires and values. “To do good for a dentist means to consider each patient as an individual and whatever is in their best interest. We discuss treatment options together so we come to an agreement about what’s best,” says Dr. Cathleen Taylor-Osborne, Director of the Kansas Department of Health and Environment Bureau of Oral Health. “It’s also important to use scientific evidence for the public good, such as fluoridation.”


Your dentist does not discriminate and will provide dental care without prejudice. “Everyone is treated fairly, regardless of race, creed, religion, socioeconomic background, ethnicity and current health conditions,” Dr. Taylor-Osborne says.


The best doctor-patient relationships are based on trust and honesty. “Truth in diagnosis and treatment planning is so vital,” Dr. Taylor-Osborne says. “Once you and your dentist have that trust, you can be partners, which will help you both gain so much going forward.”

To find out if you are seeing an ADA dentist, ask at your next appointment or use the ADA Find-a-Dentist tool to find an ADA dentist near you.


More on MouthHealthy