In its 90th year, the ADA Seal of Acceptance Program still enjoys a legacy of trust from consumers and dental professionals that endures.
By Steven Martinez
The American Dental Association’s Seal of Acceptance program entered its 90th year in 2021.
As early as the 1860s, the ADA had lent its voice to rooting out oral care products that made extravagant claims. But by 1930, the ADA Council on Scientific Affairs officially laid down a set of guidelines to evaluate products for their safety and efficacy.
In 1931, the first ADA Seal of Acceptance was awarded to a dental product, and the program began its long history.
Today, hundreds of products sit on grocery store shelves with the Seal of Acceptance that 92% of consumers say impacts their buying decisions, according to surveys taken by the ADA.
Whereas in the past, the ADA was countering enterprising charlatans that might have mixed any ingredients lying around to create a dubious tincture, today’s drug stores can still be an imposing place to shop.
“You walk into any drugstore these days, and you’re confronted with the giant dental aisle of confusion, and there’s 82 different types of toothpaste,” says Matthew Messina, DDS, spokesperson for the ADA Seal of Acceptance Program. “So, as a way to make sense out of all of this, the Seal is the dentist’s mark on a product that says that its claims have been verified and the product says what it does, and it does what it says.”
A dental professional can recommend any product with the Seal because of the rigorous approval process that each product must endure to receive the Seal.
The ADA Council on Scientific Affairs has specific requirements for each product category. Each manufacturer must submit data from clinical and laboratory studies that demonstrate the safety and efficacy of the product. For more specific claims, which may be outside dental professionals’ purview, the ADA also consults with experts in the particular field for evaluation.
The Seal of Acceptance is not a lifetime appointment. Products need to be re-submitted every 5 years, and if there has been any change to the product, the company must submit new data and potentially put it through testing again.
Importantly, not every product submitted for the ADA Seal of Acceptance receives the thumbs up.
“The Seal has power because it’s authentic and people know that you can’t just get the Seal. You have to earn the Seal,” says Messina.
The rigor of the Seal testing process is not just an excellent way to help consumers shop; it is also an essential tool for dental professionals when recommending products to their patients.
“In today’s world, it’s very important that we look at how the products are manufactured to make sure that the manufacturer is meeting the necessary standards,” says Messina. “I can tell someone that if the product has the Seal, it’s safe and effective when used as directed and that the claims are accurate.”
With the rise of homeopathic remedies and all-natural products in recent years, some of these widely available products have forgone the ADA Seal. When asked if that presented a challenge for the program, Messina told Orthodontic Products that he didn’t think so.
Natural products can be submitted to the Seal program and some have been accepted after meeting the requirements, according to the ADA.
“Is a non-Seal product safe? It’s entirely possible. Is there a concern? I don’t know. All I can tell you is that a product that doesn’t have the Seal has not sat for the process,” says Messina. “I don’t want to imply that not having the Seal is a negative, but I know more about a Seal product, which is what makes it important.”
Perhaps the best testament to the Seal’s enduring legacy was in the 1990 film Home Alone, when the main character Kevin McCallister asks the drug store clerk if the toothbrush he is buying is ADA approved.
“That speaks to the value of the Seal that a movie writer would think to put that in. You know he’s being funny, but it’s funny because we all know the Seal,” says Messina. “I think it’s amazing. When I first saw the movie, I was like, ‘Yes,’ and everybody’s laughing because we all know the Seal.” OP
Steven Martinez is the associate editor for Orthodontic Products