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Code of Ethics spurs public’s decision in choosing dentists, survey says

July 15, 2015

By David Burger

Headshot of Dr. Himmelberger
Dr. Himmelberger

ADA member dentists are unique in that they have something that other dentists don’t: a Code of Ethics.

Patients like that, according to the results of a new study commissioned by the Association’s Council on Ethics, Bylaws and Judicial Affairs

Nearly 70 percent of patients are more likely to choose an ADA member dentist knowing that those dentists follow a Code of Ethics, the study showed.

The survey also showed that nearly 75 percent of patients said that simply knowing that a dentist was a member of the ADA would influence whom they selected as a dentist.

The ADA has long believed that the ADA’s “Principles of Ethics and Code of Professional Conduct” elevated dentists’ reputation in the community, but didn’t have proof, said Pennsylvania dentist Dr. Linda K. Himmelberger, chair of CEBJA. “We were hoping to find it was a differentiator for the public,” Dr. Himmelberger said. “That is what the survey pointed out.”

The May survey was conducted among a Census-balanced, nationally representative sample of 1,000 people, with a 3 percent margin of error. Respondents were asked to read a description of the ADA Code before responding to a final question.

The survey tested whether public knowledge of the ADA Code and its fundamental purpose of putting the interests of patients first would resonate with the public and might result in channeling patients to ADA member dentists. Members of the ADA voluntarily agree to abide by the ADA Code as a condition of membership in the Association.

“CEBJA wanted to know if the ADA Code would help us with ADA’s membership goals,” said Oklahoma dentist Dr. Doug Auld, vice chairman of CEBJA.

The findings included:

  • Sixty-seven percent of respondents knew if their dentists were members of the ADA.
  • Two in five consumers believed that ADA dentists hold themselves to a higher standard than other dentists. After learning about the Code, the number increased to 53 percent.
  • Patients aged 35-64 were more likely to be influenced by the Code when choosing a dentist, while people in the 18-24 age range were considerably less influenced by the Code.
  • If people believe they are already going to an ADA dentist, the Code will likely influence them to look even more strongly for another ADA member the next time they are in need of a dentist.

Some of the findings pleasantly surprised Dr. Himmelberger and Dr. Auld.

“What impressed me was that 69 percent of patients, knowing that we had a Code, were more likely to go to a member dentist,” Dr. Auld. “ I didn’t think it would be that high. I was surprised.”

“The public does feel very strongly about their dentists being members of the ADA,” Dr. Himmelberger said. “Seventy-five percent is a big number.”

Dr. Himmelberger said that member dentists should promote the findings and share them. “There are ways they can work the Code and the fact that they are ADA members into their daily interactions with their patients to increase the patient’s awareness of the Code and how it guides the way their dentist treats them,” she said.

She recommended that dentists should print out the ADA Code and have copies of it in the waiting room. Dr. Auld said that members should also have the ADA Code posted conspicuously in the office.

They also recommended that members should either post the Code on their websites or post an existing video about the Code, available at ADA.org/en/about-the-ada/principles-of-ethics-code-of-professional-conduct, on their sites. 

Printed copies of the Code are available upon request by contacting the coordinator of CEBJA, Earl Sewell, at 1-312-440-2499 or sewelle@ada.org.

The Code can be viewed at ADA.org.