Dentalcare logo

Ethics in Dentistry: Part II - Codes of Ethics

Course Number: 528

Dental Hygiene Code

The first code of ethics for dental hygienists was created at the inception of the American Dental Hygienists’ Association (ADHA) in 1927.9 The Code was developed in three sections and listed the duties of the profession to patients beginning with the statement, “The dental hygienist should be ever ready to respond to the wants of her patrons, and should fully recognize the obligations involved in the discharge of her duties toward them." The issue of character was addressed with the admonition that “her manner should be firm, yet kind and sympathizing so as to gain the respect and confidence of her patients, and even the simplest case committed to her care should receive that attention which is due to operations performed on living, sensitive tissue.” The second section cautioned the hygienist that patience will be necessary and the importance of endeavoring to educate the public mind. Lastly, the early Code counselled regarding the primacy of the patient with the hygienist being “temperate in all things, keeping both mind and body in the best possible health, that her patients may have the benefit of the clearness of judgment and skill which is their right.”

The wording of the original code reflects the tone and verbiage of the time and the fact that initially only women were dental hygienists. The code has been revised several times over the years, most significantly in 1995 after a review and the incorporation of newer aspects of health care and changes in the profession. Revisions have been undertaken in more recent years. The current version of the code is presented in several sections and encompasses the areas of endeavor in which the dental hygienist functions.10

The four goals or purposes of the code of ethics are listed in the beginning of the code, and these capture the essence of why the code is important to dental hygienists and the public who entrust themselves for care and services. The purposes listed are to:

  • Increase professional and ethical consciousness and sense of ethical responsibility.

  • Recognize ethical issues and choices, and guide in decision making.

  • Establish a standard for professional judgment and conduct.

  • Provide a statement of the ethical behavior the public can expect.


The key concepts, basic beliefs, fundamental principles, and core values are established and explained in the code so that the standards of professional responsibility can be fully understood by professional and public alike.

The dental hygiene code is maintained by the American Dental Hygienists’ Association House of Delegates and is monitored by the executive staff of the organization. The code of ethics that was developed in 1995 is more comprehensive than earlier versions and provides extensive guidance for the dental hygienist working in a variety of health care delivery settings. The most recent revision lays out five fundamental principles and seven core values to guide practice and frame the ethics of the group.

The fundamental principles are:

  • Universality – judging an action to be right or wrong by the similar people in the same situation.

  • Complementarity – existence of the obligation to justice and human rights. Calls out the needs and values of others in the provision of services.

  • Ethics – broad term that aims to promote good and minimize harm, including health promotion.

  • Community – acknowledges the bond among individuals, community and society, leading to preserving the global environment.

  • Responsibility – accepting our duty to knowing and making ethical choices, including the consequences of actions or failure to act.

The ADA code refers to five fundamental principles, whereas the ADHA code identifies core values and fundamental principles. The current code lists the core principles embraced and upheld in all health care professions and clearly defines for all the standards of professional responsibility that the profession believes its members should adhere to in the performance of their services. A code of ethics is a reference and a guide. The ADHA Code of Ethics for Dental Hygienists is available in its entirety at