When you go to an ADA member dentist, you can feel confident that your dentist has promised to follow the extensive ADA Principles of Ethics and Code of Professional Conduct. Every ADA member dentist has agreed to practice under The ADA Code and it covers five basic principles: respect for your wants and needs as a patient; to do no harm; to always do good; and to treat all people with fairness and truthfulness.

Your doctor-patient relationship is based on the trust and confidence you feel and many specific actions and safeguards. Below are just a few areas from the ADA Code that you can expect your ADA member dentist to follow: If you have any reason to believe an ADA member dentist has acted unethically, you should contact your state dental society. In most cases, the dental society will decide if formal charges and a disciplinary hearing are necessary.

Patient Records
All dentists keep health records and are required to keep those records confidential. Even if you decide to change dentists, your previous dentist still must maintain this confidentiality.

Generally, seven years of college education is required to become a general dentist. Upon completion of their training, dentists must pass both a national written exam and a state or regional clinical licensing exam in order to practice. To keep their licenses, they must meet continuing education requirements for the remainder of their careers to stay up to date on the latest scientific and clinical developments. Additional post-graduate training is required to become a dental specialist, such as an orthodontist, periodontist, endodontist or oral and maxillofacial surgeon.

Patient Selection
No dentist can refuse to accept patients into his or her practice or deny dental service based on race, creed, color, sex or national origin. Dentists also have a duty to treat people fairly and to provide care to those in need regardless of any medical condition.

Dentists are expected to make reasonable arrangements for the emergency care of their patients

Sometimes, it may be necessary for your dentist to refer you to a specialist or another dentist with more education and experience with your kind of treatment. The referring dentist should not have a financial interest in the treatment recommended.

Personal Impairment

It is unethical for a dentist to practice while abusing controlled substances, alcohol or other chemical agents which impair his/her ability to practice dentistry.

Ability to Practice
A dentist who contracts any disease or becomes impaired in any way that might endanger patients or dental staff should limit the activities of practice to those areas that do not endanger patients or dental staff.

Infection Control

All dentists have an ethical obligation to immediately inform any patient who may have been exposed to blood or other potentially-infectious material in the dental office. If a patient is exposed, it’s up to the dentist to immediately refer the patient to a qualified health care practitioner.

Personal Relationships

Dentists should avoid interpersonal relationships that could impair their professional judgment or risk the possibility of exploiting the confidence placed in them by a patient.

Abuse and Neglect
Dentists are expected to be familiar with the signs of abuse and neglect and to report suspected cases to the proper authorities, consistent with state laws.


When you entrust a dentist with your health care, he or she has a duty to be honest and trustworthy. This includes overbilling and the recommendation or performance of unnecessary dental services. It is unethical for a dentist to increase a fee to a patient solely because the patient is covered under a dental benefits plan.

Reviewed: September 2013