Everything You Ever Wanted to Know about the American Dental Association – Part 1: It’s History until 1960

Every dental product and procedure may have some of its roots connected to the American Dental Association (ADA). This organization is a major contributor to the field of dentistry, from giving care to those in need to offering dental students the money they need to finish school.

Where did the ADA start and how did dentistry evolve in history? It’s all entwined with the Enlightenment. Dentistry as we understand it today originated during the Enlightenment period in Europe. Even as knowledge in all the sciences expanded, such men as French Physician Pierre Fauchard and other surgeons practiced and wrote about their findings relating to all manner of oral problems and solutions.


Dentistry Conjugates in America

Dental knowledge continued in the Americas as colonists settled there. In 1859, a group of 26 dentists, including the first ADA president William H. Atkinson, came together to create a professional association committed to promoting good oral health, ethical patient treatment, and continuing research on their profession. Though their third annual meeting was postponed due to the U.S. Civil War, the association continued toward their goals.
Several association merges, location swaps, and name changes took place before the ADA reached 30,000 members in 1929. By this time, the Journal of the American Dental Association became the top publication related to the dental field. The next year, two major happenings established the ADA’s importance to mid-century America. With over 36,000 members, the ADA represented right at half of all U.S. dentists. Their other major feat in 1930 was the development of the ADA Council of Dental Therapeutics, now known as the Council on Scientific Affairs, and tests/approves dental commercial products. The following year, the Seal of Approval program was established, and the first one awarded to a brand of cod oil to help keep teeth healthy.

Children and Education Become ADA Focus

The sheer numbers and passion of the ADA began to allow its influence to integrate with government departments and also invest in colleges and recognize dental specialties for its students. For example, in 1936 ADA joins the U.S. Public Health Service in a project to gift dental examinations to 1.5 million children in 26 U.S. states. This dedication to children’s dental health ushered in the proclaimation of February 6th as National Children’s Dental Health Day. The ADA continues this work through 3rd world country and emergency aid, as well as modern campaigns which we’ll chat about our second ADA post.


The ADA Council on Dental Education also evaluated and accredited 38 dental schools in 1946. In the next few decades they officially recognized many dental specialties, starting with Oral surgery and Periodontics in 1947. Programs for postgraduate training and dental laboratory technicians as well as for dental hygienists were also added by 1952. The ADA also began heavily researching fluoride and its effects on oral health. This research eventually led the ADA to endorse it.


Century and Beyond

The American Dental Association celebrated its 100th Anniversary with commemorative stamps put out by the USPS and a giant party in New York. From then on, they continued their legacy of excellence. Later this week, we’ll chat more their recent history and what major campaigns are currently happening due to the mega efforts of the ADA.


Read part 2 of this article here.

About Mark C. Marchbanks, D.D.S.

Dr. Mark Marchbanks has practiced dentistry in Arlington Texas since 1983. He enjoys caring for patients young and old. You can find Dr. Marchbanks on
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