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“Who Made the ADA the Authority in Dentistry?”

Posted Jul 30 2010 7:02am

Check out the American Dental Association’s mission statement :

The ADA is the professional association of dentists committed to the public’s oral health, ethics, science and professional advancement; leading a unified profession through initiatives in advocacy, education, research and the development of standards.

They also have a vision statement:

The American Dental Association: The oral health authority committed to the public and the profession.

We hadn’t looked at these statements in quite a while, and one thing really jumped out at us: the indiscriminate use of the word…”the.”

Now that tiny and rather boring word may not seem like such a big deal – until you remember the lesson from those long-ago days of grammar lessons in school:

  • “A” and “an” are indefinite articles. Each signifies a thing in general.
  • “The” is a definite article. It signifies only one thing.

So, for example, if you have “a clock,” it could be any clock in the world; it’s just one clock among many. But if you have “the clock,” then it’s a particular one – say, the clock someone asked you to move from one room to another, or the clock that your grandmother left you when she died. “A” is vague and general. “The” is specific and exclusive.

So for the ADA to position themselves as “the professional association committed to the public’s oral health” or “the oral health authority committed to the public and the profession” shows a lot of hubris – or wishful thinking. They are certainly not the only professional association that can claim such a commitment. Conventional, Western school dentists have the Academy of General Dentistry as a major alternate professional association. Holistic and integrative dentists have groups such as the Holistic Dental Association , the International Academy of Oral Medicine and Toxicology and the International Academy of Biological Dentistry and Medicine .

In short, the ADA is not the only game in town. What they do have is an inordinate amount of power, a loud voice and the veneer of authority that they’ve maintained ever since its origin as a splinter group of dentists who wanted to keep placing mercury fillings, despite the emerging knowledge of health risks – risks that were known in the mid-19th century but were (as they continue to be) blown off by dentists who saw great profit to be made in placing that poison in people’s mouths. This power, voice and veneer creates the impression that the ADA speaks for all dentists.

This, of course, begs the question: what do dentists think of the ADA?

An increasing number – now a slim majority – say that the ADA doesn’t, in fact, speak for them. According to a Wealthy Dentist survey , 52% of responding dentists say no, the ADA is not “a valid representative of the general American dentist.” A sample of majority view comments in the survey:

While a number of dentists suggested that the need for a strong voice and representation in government should keep anyone from leaving the organization or switching to a smaller one – more power in one big, loud voice than lots of smaller, softer ones – you have to wonder: if that voice isn’t speaking in your interest, what are you really gaining from it?


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