LITTLE ROCK (KATV) – A law passed back in the 1950s is at the center of a lawsuit filed in federal court this week against the Arkansas State Board of Dental Examiners. Dr. Ben Burris, an orthodontist, is suing the state board to overturn the law that prohibits him from offering basic dental exam services.
Burris, who owns Braces by Burris and Arkansas Orthodontics, owns eleven offices statewide and plans to open three in the Little Rock metro area this year. He prides himself on being able to offer orthodontic services at low costs, more specifically to those without dental insurance. He wanted to take that pride a step further by offering $99 dental exams, including cleaning and x-ray.
“The fact is more than 60 percent of Arkansans don’t see the dentist regularly,” said Burris. “The most common reason cited is that it’s not affordable.”
Dr. Burris began doing those dental cleanings, but quickly stopped after he received a letter from the State Board of Dental Examiners.
“The state board made it clear that I would lose not only my orthodontic license, but my dental license and I’ve got darn near 100 employees and all of their families that depend on us for a livelihood,” commented Burris.
The board cited the Arkansas Dental Practice Act, more specifically Section 17-82-305, in which any member granted a specialty license – like orthodontics – must limit his or her practice to the specialty in which he or she is licensed. But Burris mentions his orthodontic specialty was earned with three years of training in addition to dental school.
“But [general] dentists in Arkansas can do whatever they want to with no formal training,” said Burris. “Whether that’s sedation or oral surgery or braces. So there’s hypocrisy there and it just doesn’t make any sense.”
Now Burris is hopeful that his civil lawsuit, filed by the Institute for Justice – a nonprofit civil liberties law firm – will overturn the law currently on the books and allow him to offer low cost dental services to those that need them.
“The best outcome is that we win here in Arkansas in federal court and that has a waterfall effect across other states in the union that have similar issues going on,” said Burris. The Arkansas State Board of Dental Examiners requested Attorney General Dustin McDaniel defend them in this case. In a written comment from McDaniel’s spokesperson Aaron Sadler he mentioned they “routinely defend state agencies in litigation and they will vigorously defend the board in this instance.”