LITTLE ROCK â€” A Jonesboro orthodontist has filed a federal court challenge to an Arkansas law that bars dental specialists from offering stand-alone basic services such as cleanings and X-rays.
The lawsuit filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Little Rock argues that it is unconstitutional to prohibit orthodontists â€” dentists who specialize in straightening teeth â€” from performing nonemergency stand-alone services outside of their specialty.
Dr. Benjamin Burris, who operates offices in Blytheville, Forrest City, Jonesboro, Paragould and West Memphis, signed a consent order in November with the Arkansas Board of Dental Examiners in which he agreed to stop offering cleanings and X-rays to patients he's not fitting for braces. The order says Burris was violating state law but he wasn't penalized because he agreed to end the practice.
"It's really a patients' rights issue," Burris said. "Diabetes and heart disease ... are linked to poor oral health (and) two-thirds of the people in Arkansas don't see a dentist regularly."
Burris said he offered cleanings and X-rays for $99, which he said is significantly less expensive than what general dentists charge.
The lawsuit said state law is blocking people from receiving appropriate dental care.
The Arkansas Dental Examiners Board and its members are named in the suit.
Board attorney Kevin O'Dwyer said Friday he hadn't had a chance to read the suit or consult with the board.
"We have 30 days to respond. Typically, we'll look at this and see which direction we want to go on this," he said.
O'Dwyer said that the board's function is to uphold state law and that the law bars specialists from offering general dentistry services.
Burris' lawyer, Matthew Miller, of the Arlington, Virginia-based Institute for Justice law firm, said the issue is one of "economic liberty" and "the right to pursue an occupation of your choice."
Miller said the law harms patients.
"A large part is when you go to the dentist every six months, you catch things early and make sure you don't need expensive specialty services down the road," Miller said.
Burris said he would refer patients to other dentists when he found problems during hygienic services.
Burris isn't seeking compensation from the board but he wants a federal judge to find the law unconstitutional and issue an injunction preventing its enforcement. Burris also wants the board to cover his attorney fees.
An orthodontist with whom Burris practices, Elizabeth Gohl, is also named as a plaintiff.