Dentists, Orthodontists at Odds Over Ben Burris' Cleanings

Dentists, Orthodontists at Odds Over Ben Burris' Cleanings
Ben Burris

As the Arkansas Board of Dental Examiners ponders what to do with the Fort Smith orthodontist who offered dental cleanings to the general public, the case highlights a division between dentists and orthodontists.

As of Wednesday, the dental board still was considering whether Dr. Ben Burris’ actions violated the Dental Practice Act, which prohibits orthodontists and other specialists from practicing outside their specialty, said the board’s attorney, Kevin O’Dwyer. O’Dwyer, a partner in the Little Rock law firm of Hope Trice & O’Dwyer, said he didn’t have a timetable for when a decision will be made.

On Sept. 13, Burris spent about an hour in front of the board explaining that he was offering the service at his five clinics in northeast Arkansas to improve access to care and to help his business.

“I think we need to find out exactly what clinics are involved and maybe get a better picture of what it is that’s going on within the individual clinic settings,” O’Dwyer told Arkansas Business on Wednesday.

Meanwhile, Burris stopped offering cleanings as of Sept. 13 in his Braces by Burris orthodontic clinics until the board makes a decision.

If the board charges Burris with a violation of the act and he’s found guilty, O’Dwyer said the possible penalties include a fine, suspension or revocation of his license. Burris’ lawyer, David Glover of Little Rock, declined to comment on the case.

Dentists Complaints

Dentists fired off complaints to the board when they learned that Burris began offering in June dental cleanings and exams to the general public.

“As you well know, specialization of one’s practice assumes that you will practice only that narrowed spectrum of dentistry to which you have advance training,” Dr. James Phillips, an oral and maxillofacial surgeon in Jonesboro and former member of the dental board, wrote in an Aug. 13 email to the board.

The email was available to Arkansas Business under the Freedom of Information Act.

“This concerns many of the area dentists and rightfully so,” Phillips said in the email. “If the Board allows this obvious violation, it will loose [sic] ALL credibility in the NE area.”

Phillips didn’t return a call seeking additional comment.

Dr. Clifton Higgins of Jonesboro also sent an email to the board complaining about Burris’ practice.

“I am disgusted with many aspects of his practice,” Higgins said in the July 29 email. “The latest business decision he had made to employ dental hygienists to perform dental cleanings ONLY in his office … seems to be in direct violation of the practice of his orthodontic specialty. I feel that this action warrants immediate and decisive action” from the board.

Higgins declined to comment on the case because it’s pending before the dental board.

Springdale dentist Dr. Michael Crowder also sent an email to the board on Sept. 12 and was opposed to the practice of an orthodontist providing dental examines. “I feel this practice is trying to subvert the traditional role of the general dentist caregiver in referring patients for specialty care,” Crowder wrote. “This [is] NOT in the best interest of the general public.”

Crowder declined further comment on the case.

Double Standard

While dentists complained, fellow orthodontists have supported Burris in his fight to provide the cleanings, which included X-rays and exams. The price was $98 for an adult and $68 for a child, which Burris has said was about half of what dentists in northeast Arkansas typically charge.

“A bunch of us are very thankful he’s willing to stand up to this and not just back down,” said Dr. Michael DeLuke, an orthodontist from Schenectady, N.Y., and an assistant professor in the orthodontic department at the University of Connecticut. “What’s going on is just not right,” DeLuke said.

DeLuke said he thinks dental boards have a double standard because general dentists perform orthodontic procedures, such as adding braces to patients, but aren’t penalized by the board. “Orthodontists feel it’s hypocrisy,” he said.

Dr. Gayle Glenn, president of the American Association of Orthodontists, also said orthodontists should be allowed to provide cleanings. She said in an email to Arkansas Business that orthodontists are dentists first before they complete a two- or three-year orthodontic specialty program.

“If it is permissible under a state’s dental practice act for orthodontists to offer dental cleanings and X-rays, … the orthodontists should be allowed to offer these services,” Glenn wrote.

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