In the past two months I have noticed a significant rise in the number of Dentist’s seeking potential legal representation before the Texas State Board of Dental Examiners. This is not surprising as the Dental Board has recently come under fire from both the press and Legislature for what is perceived as a record of lax or ineffectual enforcement. To attempt to remedy this situation the last Legislative Session authorized a sizable increase in the Dental Board’s budget for investigations and disciplinary matters.
The Texas Dental Board has been rapidly placing these new funds to use by hiring a new General Counsel, Joy Sparks, as well as several other new attorneys, paralegals, investigators, and miscellaneous support staff. Combined with the additional personnel, the Dental Board has begun pursuing dentists and other licensees for complaints and criminal episodes it would have likely either ignored or sought minimal discipline for in the past.
In one of my recent cases, the Board of Dental Examiners is seeking to impose a multi-year reprimand on the basis of a comparatively minor misdemeanor for which the dentist was placed on deferred adjudication. Previously, this kind of offense would have probably been ignored by the Board or only resulted in them demanding a less severe sanction; however, in this new climate the dentists may be facing a lengthy fight to avoid the imposition of an unreasonable Order.
The dilemma faced by this dentist and other’s like him is even if they are the subject of a comparatively minor case, should they agree to such discipline they will potentially be required to report it to their provider networks, malpractice insurers, any other credentialing bodies, other state’s where they are licensed, and the Department of Public Safety and DEA in reference to their controlled substances registration. The import is that what may start as a small case at the Dental Board can lead to a whole host of secondary effects which can affect a dentist’s ability to smoothly function as an ongoing concern.
The Dental Board has also initiated the process necessary to promulgate new disciplinary rules which promise to sharpen the teeth of the Board’s enforcement wing. I intend to dedicate a blog article to this topic once these proposed rules assume a more definite shape.
The bottom-line is that Texas dentists should expect to see more activity from the Dental Board in the coming year and should ensure they keep abreast of rule changes and how they may impact their practice. Due to the Texas State Board of Dental Examiners’ more severe stance towards discipline, I strongly encourage any dentist subject to an investigation or disciplinary action to contact an attorney with experience in both administrative law and the representation of licensees before the Dental Board. In almost every case, early involvement by an attorney familiar with the process will lead to a better outcome and minimize any negative effects on the dentist’s practice.