State Senator Jeremy Hutchinson Challenges Dental Law

Arkansas State Sen. Jeremy Hutchinson, R-Benton, said he will begin a push to change state law so that orthodontists can provide basic teeth cleanings to the general public.

Hutchinson told Arkansas Business that after the current fiscal session ends he will meet with the Arkansas Board of Dental Examiners to continue a discussion that he hopes will lead to a change of the Arkansas Dental Practices Act. The law currently prevents orthodontists and other dental specialists from practicing outside their specialty.

The storm surrounding the issue was highlighted last year when the board quizzed orthodontist Ben Burris about offering dental cleanings to the general public. Dentists in northeast Arkansas complained that Burris offered dental cleaning in his Braces by Burris orthodontics clinics, charging about half what dentists in the region charged. Burris eventually signed a consent order with the board in November that said he wouldn’t offer cleanings to the general public.

Hutchinson said that he had received some complaints from constituents about the issue, so he placed a legislative “hold” on the dental board’s budget until he could get some answers.

He said his concern was that orthodontists couldn’t perform teeth cleanings — even free ones for low-income Arkansans — because it would defy the Dental Practices Act.

“And that seemed to violate, in my mind, what the role of the dental board is, which is to protect the consumers and increase access,” Hutchinson said. “And they didn’t appear to be increasing access.”

Hutchinson said he held up the board’s budget to get its attention about the issue. If the budget is held long enough, the dental board wouldn’t receive funding, something Hutchinson said he would not have allowed to happen.

“It’s a serious step, but it’s one that happens a lot,” Hutchinson said of holding an agency’s budget. “But I’ve never known a legislator to keep holding it and actually defund an agency.”

After meeting with the executive director of the dental board, Donna Cobb, Hutchinson released the hold on the budget.

Cobb said that she told Hutchinson that the Dental Practices Act would have to be changed by the Legislature and agreed to discuss the issue after the fiscal session.

“It’s not that I’m open to it or that I’m against it — it’s legislative,” Cobb said.

Burris said last week that he’s happy that they are starting on changing the law, which he once described as “archaic.”

“We’re very pleased that [the board] is being progressive about it,” Burris said. “It’s good for them. It’s good for us, … and most important, it’s good for the patients.”