The American Dental Association (ADA) acknowledged today that it deeply regrets not taking a stronger stand against discriminatory membership practices during the pre-civil rights era.
ADA President Raymond Gist, D.D.S., said making the announcement public reinforces the ADA's commitment to a diverse and inclusive profession, moving us forward in a new spirit of collaboration to advance the dental profession and the oral health of the public.
"In looking forward, we also must look back," stated Dr. Gist, the first African American to serve as ADA president. "Along with acknowledging past mistakes and to build a stronger, collaborative platform for future accomplishments, the ADA apologizes to dentists for not strongly enforcing non-discriminatory membership practices prior to 1965. These are not my words alone—they embody a resolution adopted by the ADA Officers and Board of Trustees."
Improvements in diversity
Dr. Gist said that in the 45 years since he was a dental student, there have been improvements in the diversity of the dental profession, membership and leadership of the ADA, and in initiatives to reduce disparities in the public's oral health.
He said that although doors have been opened, more can be done to encourage careers in dentistry, citing enrollment in U.S. dental schools not keeping pace with the growth of underrepresented minorities in the U.S. population.
Dr. Gist explained that U.S. Census Bureau data indicate in 2009, African Americans and Hispanic Americans each totaled about 12.9 percent and 15.8 percent of the U.S. population, respectively. Yet, ADA survey data for the 2008-09 school year indicate only about six percent of dental students were African American and six percent were Hispanic American. Dr. Gist also noted that when it comes to the oral health of the public, African Americans and Hispanic Americans suffer higher rates of dental diseases.
Earlier this year, the National Dental Association (NDA), Hispanic Dental Association (HDA), the Society of American Indian Dentists and the ADA held the first National Summit on Diversity in Dentistry. At the summit, representatives from each organization presented deeply personal testimonials on the history of exclusion and inclusion in organized dentistry. They described current initiatives to improve diversity in the profession and leadership, and to reduce population disparities in oral health status. The presidents of the four organizations also committed to continuing their dialogue, focusing on oversight of current and future collaborations.
The ADA has a number of programs and activities devoted to inclusion such as the Institute for Diversity in Leadership, which provides a diverse group of dentists with education and experience to set new leadership paths within the profession and their communities; the Student Ambassador Program; and the Council on Dental Education and Licensure's Career Guidance and Diversity Activities Committee (Committee D). Committee D is comprised of 14 members, including representatives of the NDA, HDA, and the Society of American Indian Dentists.
"The more our profession reaches out and makes everyone – from every walk of life and with every career ambition – feel welcome, the more talented our next generation of dentists will be," Dr. Gist stated.
American Dental Association