American Student Dental Association

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American Student Dental Association
Formation 1971
Type Professional association
Headquarters Chicago, Illinois
  • United States
Official language
Tanya Maestas

The American Student Dental Association (ASDA) is a national student-run organization that attempts to protect and advance the rights, interests, and welfare of students pursuing careers in dentistry. It introduces students to lifelong involvement in organized dentistry and provides services, information, education, recreation, representation and limited amounts of advocacy.

ASDA was established to connect, support and advance the needs of dental students. ASDA represents 90 percent of all students from 66 U.S. dental schools. Since 2011, dental student membership has averaged more than 19,000. ASDA also welcomes hundreds of predental students each year.

The early years[edit]

In 1969, university students across the country staged demonstrations to protest the Vietnam War, restrictive school policies, dress codes and more. Dental school admission criteria became more selective and the competition for acceptance into dental schools increased. The resulting student profile was a brighter, more socially aware individual with diverse interests and talents.

However, at this time dental school could be likened to boot camp. In fact, many instructors were indeed retired military officers. Students were told how long to wear their hair and sideburns. Some schools even had fingernail inspections. Only a handful of women and minority students could be found in dental school. To make matters worse, no system of due process existed, which meant students could be expelled with no available recourse for help. With a multitude of issues building, the solution presented itself-dental students needed to organize.

The initial step[edit]

That year the federal government offered the Student American Medical Association (SAMA) a $1 million grant to coordinate student involvement in the Appalachia Project and the American Indian Health Program. Dentistry was the only health care discipline without its own national student organization. In order to receive the grant for the project, SAMA needed dental students to organize.

The presidents of SAMA (now known as the American Medical Student Association) and the Student American Pharmacy Association both attended the University of California at San Francisco. They approached Dennis Spain, a third year student at the university's dental school, to start a national association for dental students.

In January 1970, at a SAMA conference that included professional students of all disciplines, Spain met David Evaskus, a fourth year dental student at the University of Illinois. Impressed with the scope and depth of the projects in which the other student organizations were involved, Spain and Evaskus returned to their schools and began contacting dental school deans and students across the country.

Students held a meeting in Chicago Feb. 14-15, 1970, just prior to the midwinter meeting of the Chicago Dental Society. Although records indicate that 45 students from 26 dental schools participated, more dental schools may have been unofficially represented because several students came to the meeting without the approval of their schools' administrations. This assembly represented a new generation of dental students.

This new brand of leaders formed the Student American Dental Association (SADA), a national organization that would recruit students to serve in federal health care projects, function as an information clearinghouse on local student issues, coordinate student lobbying efforts and establish and promote student positions on professional issues. Members elected Dennis Spain, the event organizer, as board president. The newly established SADA planned to hold its first national convention and House of Delegates meeting in New York in October 1970.

ASDA is born[edit]

SADA wanted to maintain its independence but was unable to secure funding to support its planned national convention. At the same time, the American Dental Association began developing its own plans for student affairs to channel student requests to the appropriate ADA departments. Approved at the 1970 ADA Annual Session, one of the first activities was to help organize a dental student convention, which was later held Feb. 8-9, 1971.

The culmination of the conference was the formation of the American Student Dental Association (ASDA), a new national student dental organization. Its first president and other key officers were former SADA leaders. While this new organization had the ADA's approval and support, ASDA's guiding principles and leaders descended directly from the original student organization, SADA.

In its first year, ASDA participated in minority student recruitment, migratory worker health programs in several states and Indian Health Service programs. In addition, the association published a monthly newsletter and held regional conferences on issues concerning public health.

One of ASDA's earliest activities was the development of an advocacy program to respond to students' requests for support and assistance. ASDA's advocacy program helped students by either directing them to local sources of assistance, forwarding cases to the ADA Commission on Dental Accreditation, or simply shedding light on injustices through ASDA's newsletter.

In 1986, ASDA established its Political Education Network, composed of students who coordinate legislative activities and lobbying efforts at their dental schools. PEN monitored state and national legislative activities and organized political action at the grassroots level, such as letter-writing campaigns and voter registration drives. ASDA initiated its political advocacy network of dental students nearly 10 years before the ADA created its grassroots network for dentists. In the fall of 2000, ASDA changed PEN's name to the Legislative Grassroots Network (LGN) to better reflect its purpose and efforts.

The issues[edit]

A channel for dental student concerns[edit]

ASDA is the largest national organization solely dedicated to dental student concerns. Structured as a network of chapters based at each of the 60+ dental schools in the United States and Puerto Rico, ASDA is uniquely geared to respond to its members at the local, regional and national levels.

Two delegates at each dental school chapter serve as voting members of the ASDA House of Delegates. Their role is to voice the concerns of their constituents to the House of Delegates for action in the form of resolutions. As a result of passed resolutions, ASDA publishes policy statements on several issues, including dental education, licensure, the rise in tuition cost for dental students,[1] dental research, midlevel providers and education financing. ASDA notifies groups or individuals, such as dental school deans, dental associations, state boards of dentistry and lawmakers, of its position on particular issues.

Capturing support of legislators[edit]

In 1999, ASDA and the American Dental Education Association hosted the first National Dental Student Lobby Day. Each year since then, students have gathered in Washington, D.C. to actively lobby members of Congress. This unique experience provides ASDA members an opportunity to meet with their legislators and advocate for their profession.

Recent issues that ASDA has lobbied for:

Dental licensure reform[edit]

ASDA supports the universal acceptance of all regional and state clinical licensing examinations. ASDA is leading the charge for the elimination of live patient exams to protect the public and ethical integrity of the profession. Our efforts to reach out to state dental associations to encourage them to adopt similar policies have been successful.

In 2010, bill AB 1524 was passed in California recognizing licensure by portfolio. This innovative approach to licensure opens up opportunities in other states. The ADA has created a workgroup to develop a portfolio-style examination for the purpose of initial dental licensure. An ASDA representative is a member of the task force assigned to this project.

Barriers to care[edit]

Oral health can only be of benefit to those who have the ability to access it. In America and beyond, barriers to care remain. Whether it's financial barriers, disabilities, geographical isolation or their dental health is relatively forgotten under a myriad of other health needs, patients are left with serious conditions that threaten their overall health and quality of life. These patients may need transportation, oral health education or financial incentives in order to access their dental needs. Often education, language, cultural or ethnic barriers only add to their unfortunate situation.

One potential solution is the expanded function of dental auxiliaries. ASDA endorses expanded functions for dental auxiliaries only when each has received the appropriate education and training to guarantee competence with proper supervision of a trained dentist, and when such functions fall within the laws established by their respective state of employment. Because of the comprehensive education and training requirements for dentists, ASDA believes that only dentists should perform irreversible procedures and prescribe medications.



ASDA is governed by 130 delegates (two students from each of its 65 dental school chapters). Chapters are grouped into 11 districts, each guided by an elected trustee. Each year, the delegates elect a president, two vice presidents and a Speaker of the House of Delegates. ASDA also has councils that guide the organization's work in a number of key areas.

Adopted resolutions[edit]

A resolution is a formal request or action that is presented to the House of Delegates for consideration. Delegates present discussion for or against a specific resolution, then the house votes to determine the outcome.

The future[edit]

ASDA has grown into a strong, well-respected and influential organization. Today more than 88 percent of all dental students join the association, thanks in part to automatic enrollment at many schools. ASDA will continue attempting to provide its members the support and services they need to meet the future with confidence.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Student Debt". Retrieved 2014-04-09. 

External links[edit]