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ADA Member Benefit: Tools to Navigate Ethical Conduct

By: Karen S. McAndrew, DMD, MS

Ethics in dentistry upholds our profession on a level above the legal rules and regulations that define dental practice.  How do we define ethics in dentistry?  In an effort to establish guidelines for ethical behavior in dental practice, the ADA Council on Ethics, Bylaws and Judicial Affairs has established Principles of Ethics and a Code of Professional Conduct. This document addresses all aspects of dentistry and dental practice within a set of guidelines.  Topics range from patient treatment and advertising to announcing educational credentials and marketing.  It sets the standards by which we practice in order to uphold the high standards of the dental profession while incorporating perceptions on marketing and social media and keeping up with the changes in technology and communication.

The ADA has established that “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 practice of dentistry is often a daunting task as we deliver patient care, run small businesses, and are stewards to our community.  Many resources are available to help navigate the sometimes ambiguous code by which we run our practices and treat patients.  As an ADA member benefit, a new ethics hotline ( has been established to address questions from ADA members on situations and concerns involving ethical questions and standards in dentistry.  This confidential hotline allows ADA members free access to legal interpretation of questions addressing ethical dilemmas encountered in everyday dental practice.  Visit the ADA website ( for detailed information on resources for professional conduct.

On a local level, the VDA has recently established procedures for addressing ethical complaints.  The Ethics Committee, led by chairman Dr. Bill Bennett, is tasked with providing direction and outcomes on handling potential ethical dilemmas on a state level.  The goal of this committee is to educate members and encourage individuals to correct issues that infringe on the ethical standards established by the ADA code of ethical conduct.  The committee recently passed the “Outline of Procedures for Hearings Before the Ethics Committee of the Virginia Dental Association”.

Dentistry is evolving and incorporating new applications and technology.  Working together, we can uphold the high standards and status of dentistry in this changing approach to patient care, delivery and communication.  Dentistry will continue to be viewed as a trustworthy, ethical profession. 

Virginia Dental Journal - Volume 90, Number 3, July-September 2013, pg. 54