Dentistry Ethics, Arkansas-Style: “Nice Little Dental Practice You Have Here, Dr….Too Bad If Anything Were To Happen To It!

Smiling female dentist procedure of teeth cleaning

In 2013, Dr. Ben Burris, a successful Arkansas orthodontist, began offering low-cost teeth cleanings at his 11 offices around the state. This, he says, was a public service on his part, as he knows that preventive care is critical for teeth and that citizens who can’t afford dental insurance, which is expensive, often neglect cleanings. His cleanings cost $99 for adults and $69 for kids, far less than what other dentists charged in the state.

Burris quickly heard from  the Arkansas State Board of Dental Examiners and was told that he was breaking the law.  The Board threatened him with loss of  his license if he didn’t cease his bargain  cleanings. Why?

Well, Arkansas, like some other states, prohibits licensed dental specialists like orthodontists from doing work outside of their specialty even though they are certified to practice general dentistry.  With over a hundred employees out of work, Ben suspended the program.

What’s going on here? Boy, I did a seminar on dental ethics a few years ago: I wish I had another one where I could discuss this. The regulation is nothing more than the profession lobbying the legislature and limiting services to drive up prices. What other possible explanation is there? Cleaning teeth is not the rocket science of dentistry, and any qualified dentist should be completely competent to supervise the task, especially since much of teeth cleaning is handled by hygienists. A licensed dental hygienist is legally qualified to work in a general dentist’s office or that of a specialist without restrictions.  But the orthodontist was venturing outside of the little specialist’s box the state had built for him.The Dental Board had received complaints from other licensed dentists, of course. This bleeding heart orthodontist was horning in on their lucrative  turf.  There were no accusations that Dr. Burris was placing anyone at risk, or that he wasn’t competent to offer cleanings. His crime  was doing something that dentists had taken pains to prevent him from doing, even though the prohibition meant that many children and adults would not have access to preventive care. More cavities to fill, more teeth to pull!

Arkansas, with one of the poorest populations in the country, has chosen to make preventive dental care more expensive than it has to be, to protect the incomes of one of the wealthier professions.


The 14th Amendment protects the right of professionals to offer services that they are qualified to perform. Citing that right, the Institute for Justice is now representing Ben Burris and his colleague Dr. Elizabeth Gohl in a  federal lawsuit to defend the  right of licensed dentists  to perform basic dental services, and to charge what they choose.

When activists complain about restrictive regulations harming freedom, commerce and American society, this is what they are talking about.


Pointer: Advice Goddess

Sources: Foundation for Economic Education, Institute for Justice

20 thoughts on “Dentistry Ethics, Arkansas-Style: “Nice Little Dental Practice You Have Here, Dr….Too Bad If Anything Were To Happen To It!

  1. In pure economic terms, I’m sure the dentist-to-tooth ratio in Arkansas is much higher than the rest of the nation so it does make sense for prices to drive down. So naturally professions form little cartels and use the government to enforce unnatural prices.

  2. Nice piece. You nailed the facts and the spirit of the case. In the end I dropped my speciality license in Arkansas to make myself less qualified so I could legally supervise licensed hygienists. It’s a strange world we live in!

    • I though you might do that. Thanks for the comment: I’m going to give you an Ethics Hero for it. Strange world indeed, but also a world where what you endured won’t happen if enough people find out about it.

    • See, I love hearing. This, because I think the vast majority of businessmen will tend to bend over backwards for their workers- in obvious contradiction to the stereotype that is pushed that businessmen only care about their own money.

      This is like my own boss (who owns the company also) who goes through incredible pains to avoid downsizing when in practical money terms he ought to.

  3. The Institute for Justice is a very inspirational group of libertarian public interest lawyers. I did a two-day law student seminar with them back in 1994 and have been in sporadic contact with them ever since. This is in the wheelhouse of what they do — representing small businesses and individuals against protectionist or just dumb government overreach.

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