A Fort Smith orthodontist is preparing to battle the Arkansas Board of Dental Examiners over allegations that offering dental cleanings might be a violation of a law against practicing outside his specialty.
Dr. Ben Burris said he’s being hauled in front of the board because in June he started offering dental exams for a price that is half of what other dentists in the area charge.
The board has asked Burris to appear before the board later this week to explain his “practice stetting,” said the board’s attorney, Kevin O’Dwyer, a partner in the Little Rock law firm of Hope Trice & O’Dwyer.
“It has been brought to the Board’s attention that you are employing dental hygienists,” the June 26 letter from the board to Burris said. “The Board would like to discuss this matter with you.”
O’Dwyer wouldn’t be more specific about what the board wants to discuss with Burris. But Burris said the board wants to make sure he’s not practicing outside his specialty, which is orthodontics.
“I’m pretty sure it’s an ambush,” Burris said.
Since June, Burris has offered dental cleanings, X-rays and exams for $98 for adults and $68 for children in the five northeast Arkansas clinics that he operates under the name Braces by Burris.
Some of those competitors “have gone absolutely ballistic” over the price and complained to the board, Burris said.
“In Arkansas, there’s an archaic law that says that dental specialists can’t practice outside their specialty,” he said. “So even though I’m a dentist, an orthodontist, it means that I can’t volunteer at the free clinic and pull teeth because it’s against the law.”
Burris said he is licensed as both a dentist and as an orthodontist.
Burris said he started the cleaning service as a way to help patients and to boost business.
“We wanted to make it affordable for people to be able to get their cleaning done more often,” Burris said. “Also, it’s another way for us to get new patients.”
Burris said he pays his hygienists half of what he collects for the cleaning, and he’s still able to make a profit on the service. Burris said standard practice in the industry is to pay the hygienists a flat fee of $200 to $300 a day.
Dentists “want to keep the fees high” because they make “a tremendous amount of money off the backs of hygienists,” Burris said. “I’m going to get crucified for saying all this stuff, but I don’t care.”
Still, Burris said that if a cavity is detected, he will refer the patient to a dentist for a filling.
“I’m not trying to destroy the other businesses,” he said. “I’m not saying I won’t. [But] I’m not planning on it at this point.”
Burris said that if the board “tries to do something” based on the claim that he’s practicing outside his specialty, he’s ready to file a lawsuit to challenge the action.
“I’m not going to stipulate that I crossed the law,” Burris said. “I’m not going to say that I’m operating outside my specialty.”
Billy Tarpley , the executive director of the Arkansas State Dental Association said he didn’t know all the details of the allegations involving Burris.
“We support the Dental Practice Act,” he said. “Whatever the Dental Practice Act says that dentists can do, then they should be able to do that.”
Donna Cobb, executive director of the board, referred questions to O’Dwyer.
O’Dwyer declined to comment on Burris’ comments.
O’Dwyer said he didn’t know what the possible outcomes of the Sept. 13 meeting could be.
“The board at this point is really just looking to get some answers to some questions that it had,” O’Dwyer said. “That’s it.”