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