Ben Burris Plans To Challenge Arkansas Dental Practice Act

Ben Burris Plans To Challenge Arkansas Dental Practice Act
Dr. Ben Burris has agreed not to offer dental cleanings to the public. (Ashley George)

A Fort Smith orthodontist has agreed not to offer dental cleaning to the general public — at least for now.

Dr. Ben Burris recently told Arkansas Business that his current focus is on changing the state Dental Practice Act to allow him to offer cleanings to the public.

On Thursday, Burris signed a consent order with the Arkansas Board of Dental Examiners to end its inquiry into whether Burris’ actions violated the Dental Practice Act, which prohibits orthodontists and other specialists from practicing outside their specialty.

Matt Wilkins, CEO of Burris’ companies, which includes Braces by Burris, said he and Burris have talked with some national public relations firms, attorneys and political action committees, “and there has been immense interest in trying to change the archaic nature of the Dental Practice Act and do it in Arkansas.”

Wilkins said the consultants are in the process of determining the best way to challenge the act, which would either be through the courts or in the Legislature.

“We are in the early stages of combining the strength, money and talent of specialists all over the country to help us do this,” Wilkins said.

He said he expects the campaign will cost more than $1 million over the course of a few years.

In the meantime, Burris said, he felt he had no choice but to sign the agreement, even though he believes he did nothing wrong.

“It’s incredibly archaic,” he said. “I graduated seventh out of the class of 80 dental students, … and I can’t do the most basic of all dental” procedures? Burris asked. “And, of course, the flip side of this, any dentist with no training at all can do braces.”

Burris is licensed as both a dentist and as an orthodontist.

Wilkins said that if Burris hadn’t signed the consent order, the dental board would have brought charges against Burris and “attacked his specialty license and very likely his Arkansas dental license.”

The dental board’s attorney, Kevin O’Dwyer, who is a partner in the Little Rock law firm of Hope Trice & O’Dwyer, said he didn’t know what the board would have done if Burris hadn’t signed the order.

“This was an attempt to resolve this and put this issue to bed before it came to anything more,” O’Dwyer said. “And Dr. Burris was agreeable to entering into some sort of consent order and this is what we came up with.”

O’Dwyer said the order said that Burris will practice within his specialty and that he’ll provide dental hygienist services only to his existing orthodontics patients.

Billy Tarpley, the executive director of the Arkansas State Dental Association, said Burris’ signing the consent order was good news, but his tone changed after a reporter told him that Burris was planning to challenge the law.

“If that comes to pass, we’ll take a look at it and assess it at that time,” Tarpley said. “At this point, I’m just happy to hear that there’s been some kind of agreement.”

Going Before the Board

Burris was hauled in front of the dental board in September after dentists in northeast Arkansas complained that he was offering dental cleanings to the general public in his Braces by Burris orthodontics clinics.

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.

Burris said he offered the service because it was good for his business and good for the public.

“I’ve been an advocate for access to care for a long, long time,” Burris said.

In 2008, Burris founded the Smile for a Lifetime Foundation to help children who can’t afford orthodontic care. Since then, more than $20 million worth of care has been awarded.

Burris said he’s already seen the backlash from dentists in northeast Arkansas for offering lower prices for cleanings.

“They’re disgusted with me,” he said.