American Dental Association

What Does the American Dental Association Do?

American Dental Association

Learn About the Purpose of the American Dental Association from Dr. Marichia Attalla, Leading Nassau County Periodontist

The American Dental Association (ADA) is the largest and oldest national association of dental professionals in the world. It was established in 1859 at Niagara Falls, New York as a not-for-profit organization that would be centered around patients, based on science and grounded firmly in ethics. Today the headquarters are in Chicago, where it works to promote good dental health for the public and represents the dental profession.

The ADA currently boasts over 157,000 members across the nation with 53 constituent (state-territorial) societies and 545 component (local) societies. It recognizes nine major specialty areas of dentistry:
  • Public dental health
  • Endodontics (root and dental pulp specialists)
  • Orthodontics and Dentofacial Orthopedics (specialists that treat crooked teeth and misaligned bites)
  • Pediatric dentistry
  • Periodontics (gum specialists)
  • Prosthodontics (repair and replacement of missing teeth)
  • Oral and maxillofacial pathology surgery
  • Radiology, which is concerned not only with the teeth but with the entire mouth and jaw.

A Brief History of the ADA

The original 1859 founders were 26 dentists that each represented smaller dental societies across the United States. They came together under the behest of William Henry Atkinson, who is considered to be the official founder and first president of the organization. He hoped to establish a nationwide professional association that would benefit its members as well as the general public.

Since then, the American Dental Association has grown substantially. It is considered the leading source of oral health and dental health information for both patients as well as dentists. Over the years, the association has been firmly committed to improving the oral health of the public on the national, state and even local levels by advancing the dental profession and providing the most accurate, reliable information pertaining to oral health.

Today's ADA is governed by its president as well as an elected Board of Trustees and a House of Delegates with 473 members. The organization is run completely by its members. Each of the 50 states is represented as well as Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia. Along with the main headquarters in Chicago, there is also an office established in Washington DC, and there are about 400 employees across both locations. The Paffenbarger Research Center (PRC) in Maryland is also under the American Dental Association Foundation (ADAF) umbrella.

The ADA Seal of Acceptance

The American Dental Association's Seal of Acceptance is one of the major ways that the organization has contributed to oral health. The organization established rigorous guidelines for the testing of all dental products as well as established guidelines for advertising. The first Seal of Acceptance was awarded in 1931 and today the program is voluntary for manufacturers. There are over 300 product manufacturers that participate and over 1,3000 products that have received this seal today. These products include everything from toothpaste, dental floss, mouthwash, toothbrushes, denture adhesives and even some chewing gum.

The seal is universally recognized as a symbol not only of safety but effectiveness in oral care. The ADA website even features a page with all of the products that have been awarded the prestigious Seal of Acceptance, so it's easy for consumers to find exactly what they're looking for.

The ADA Foundation and PRC

Along with the Seal of Acceptance, the other crown jewel of the ADA is the American Dental Association Foundation. The Foundation is considered to be the philanthropic arm of the ADA. It was established in 1964 to provide grants and scholarships for dental students as well as the dental research performed at the Paffenbarger Research Center. The Foundation also offers various assistance programs for dental care, including care for children, as well as unique assistance and support for member dentists and their dependents in the event of an accident.

The ADAF oversees and funds the research at the PRC, which is also a Department of the Division of Science at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). The Research Center performs both basic as well as applied science in clinical dentistry, working to further advance the field. Researchers also perform work in the areas of dental chemistry, polymer chemistry related to oral health and Cariology, which is the study of cavities.


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