The American Dental Hygienists’ Association is apologizing to communities of color for its role in perpetuating a culture of discrimination.

In a letter issued to the National Dental Hygienists’ Association (NDHA), ADHA acknowledges that the founding of NDHA by African American dental hygienists was necessary due to opportunities denied to them by ADHA.

“We sincerely and deeply apologize to dental hygienists of color for our failure to confront discriminatory membership practices that expressly excluded them,” said Sharlee Burch, RDH, MPH, EdD, ADHA president. “We are ashamed that we were no different from many national associations of the past century that permitted the exclusion of practitioners and professionals of color.”

The apology is part of the ADHA’s strategic planning ahead of its 100th anniversary. The 2020-2023 ADHA Strategic Plan includes diversity and inclusion as 1 of 4 core values.

“As leaders in oral health, we must be willing to be accountable and to actively work to eliminate inequities that exist for both dental hygienists and the patients we serve,” said Ann Battrell, MSDH, ADHA chief executive officer.

Initiatives that prioritize diversity and inclusion are being integrated across the organization’s domains, including community, continuing education, governance, and advocacy. It also includes ongoing staff and board of trustees training to ensure future operational and leader readiness to advance anti-racism efforts.

ADHA has also expanded educational programming, including cultural humility, implicit bias, and other equity-centered courses.

ADHA’s Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Access (IDEA) Committee has also been formed to identify areas for engaging the dental hygiene community and assessing organizational policies.

“Despite ADHA’s reaffirmation of its policy on open membership in 1965, we recognize our failure to advocate for African American hygienists and the effects our complicity had on this community, some of which are felt to this day,” said Burch.

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