Ben Burris Sues Dental Board to Change Law

Dr. Ben Burris on Tuesday sued members of the Arkansas Board of Dental Examiners in an attempt to change state law so that he and other dental specialists can provide teeth cleaning services.

The Fort Smith orthodontist began offering low-cost teeth cleaning to the general public last year, but stopped after he was called before the dental board. The Arkansas Dental Practices Act prohibits dental specialists from practicing outside their area of expertise, even if they're providing free services at a clinic, according to the lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Little Rock.

The lawsuit said the board threatened to revoke Burris' dental and orthodontic license if he didn't stop offering teeth cleanings.

"The Dental Board is going after me because I want to shake up an industry that desperately needs innovation," Burris said in a news release. "As a dentist, I took an oath to help people, and offering top-notch dental care at an affordable price is how I want to do that. I should not be punished because I chose to get a specialty license."

Burris and an orthodontist who works for him, Dr. Elizabeth Gohl, filed the lawsuit asking a judge to declare the Arkansas Dental Practice Act unconstitutional.

"Arkansas needs more access to dental care, not less," Burris' attorney, Matt Miller of Austin, Texas, said.

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Miller is from the Institute for Justice of Arlington, Virginia, a nonprofit that handles cases involving civil liberties.  

"The only reason the Board is enforcing this law against Dr. Ben is to protect their own pocketbooks," the Institute for Justice said in its news release.

The Institute for Justice said that restrictions on who can provide dental care raise the price of that care by an estimated 12 percent nationwide. "And there is ample evidence that many of these restrictions do nothing to protect consumers," the news release said. 

The dental board's attorney, Kevin O’Dwyer, a partner in the Little Rock law firm of Hope Trice & O’Dwyer, said he couldn't comment on the lawsuit Tuesday morning because he had not seen it.