OP-ED: Being responsible in the betweens

We live in an age of choice and convenience in which time has become a precious commodity.

Working parents know this better than anyone. They juggle their responsibilities while putting food on the table, taking care of the bills, and shuttling the kids between school, soccer practice, swimming lessons, sleepovers, and every other obligation they hope will one day lead to a responsible, well-rounded adult.

We maximize the time in between out of necessity and simplify where we can. So essential appointments—like doctor and dentist—are worked in, which sometimes means compromising quality in health care for convenience or cost.

But what if it didn’t have to?

As an orthodontist who operates one of the largest orthodontic practices in the country, I am more than capable of providing basic dental services to those who need it. What’s more, I can do so at a price that’s half the cost of the going rate charged by Primary Care Dentists.

I’m all for one-stop shopping when it comes to helping working parents, and I have attempted to offer it in my practice. Under current regulations, however, specialists like licensed orthodontists are forbidden from practicing anything outside their specialty, even though we completed the same dental programs as Primary Care Dentists. Meanwhile, those who practice primary care and did not go on to complete full-time residencies are permitted to advertise and perform more specialized services—braces, oral surgery and other advanced procedures—without ever having to fully disclose the reality of the situation to their patients.

This lack of transparency is a cause for concern and a legitimate danger to patients in Arkansas and in a number of other states across the country.

Making matters worse, the regulatory system here in Arkansas—meant to protect the citizens and eliminate bad actors within the industry—is made up almost entirely of Primary Care Dentists who refuse to take action in order to protect their own interests.

Either dentists have a license to provide specialized care or they don’t. Either they went to a full-time accredited residency program or they didn’t. There is no middle ground. Families have a right to know the difference, and it is our responsibility as healthcare providers to educate them.

I excelled in dental school, where I was formally trained to detect cavities and supervise hygienists. I’ve been held responsible for detecting cavities and improving hygiene for tens of thousands of patients during the nine years I’ve been in practice. That’s why I’ve been offering basic dental cleanings by licensed dental hygienists in my orthodontic practice for less than half the going rate.

No dentist in the state—or the world—can legitimately dispute my qualifications to supervise a licensed hygienist while performing cleanings. However, many dentists in Northeast Arkansas are not happy with me for trying to do so, or for speaking up on their lack of specialized training, and they’re out for vengeance, going so far as to haul me before the State Dental Board to air their grievances.

The message they are sending is clear: Changing their ways in support of increased access to quality care is not in their best interest, and they will resist it.

That they hold the cards and can stack the deck is unfair to working parents and all patients in Arkansas. Given their schedules, one-stop shopping is not only appealing, it’s a necessity. Rather than needing to schedule two appointments at two different offices with two different payment systems, they should be able to streamline the process to receive specialty and standard care in one.

That’s why the dentists are up in arms. They jealously guard a system that allows them to provide services they are not specially trained to provide while shutting down the specialists who can properly perform the basic services and so much more.

This is an abuse of the state’s Dental Practice Act. It is a senseless overburdening of parents who are already looking for every opportunity to maximize their betweens.

We are prepared to fight it tooth and nail.

Benjamin Burris is an orthodontist with offices in Jonesboro, West Memphis, Paragould, Blytheville and Forrest City.