Dental Board Complaints

Dental board complaints are often one of the most devastating moments in a dentist’s professional life.

Even if you know you have not done anything wrong, board complaints have the potential to derail both a professional’s livelihood and reputation. Additionally, many dentists have little, if any, knowledge of how complaints are processed and resolved. Dentists worry about questions like how do I respond to the complaint? Will my insurance company defend me? What can the Dental Board do to me? Can I lose my license?

Comitz | Stanley understands the impact a board complaint can have. Our attorneys have experience handling all stages of disciplinary actions. From the initial complaint to judicial review, we offer a client-centered approach, helping dentists preserve their licenses by providing thorough representation in a cost-effective manner.

We have also compiled the resources below to assist dentists in understanding the board complaint process.

How Does The Dental Board Investigation Begin?

The board investigation begins when the Arizona State Board of Dental Examiners (“Dental Board”) receives a complaint about the conduct of a dentist.

Most of the time, disgruntled patients will be the ones filing the complaint. However, anyone can file a complaint against any dentist at any time. All the person needs to do is to submit an online form with the Dental Board. Dental Board complaints can be filed for a number of reasons unrelated to the actual quality of a dentist’s work. Dental Board complaints can even (and often do) arise from simple billing disputes and personality clashes.

Once the Dental Board receives notice of a complaint against a dentist, its staff will conduct an initial review to determine whether it has jurisdiction over the complaint and whether a potential violation exists. If so, the Dental Board will open an investigation and send notice of the complaint to the dentist.

How Do I Respond To A Notice Of Complaint?

Once you receive notice of a Dental Board complaint, you should contact an attorney experienced in defending Dental Board complaints to determine the next step. You should also contact your malpractice insurance carrier to advise them of the complaint and determine whether there is coverage. Most malpractice policies include license defense coverage.

The Dental Board’s Notice of Complaint will often include a subpoena, requiring that the dentist provide the entire patient file to the Dental Board’s investigator. In most cases, the best course of action will be to comply with the subpoena and provide all of the records requested. However, there may be valid reasons to object to the subpoena. An attorney can document those in the subpoena response. The worst thing a dentist can do, though, is to simply ignore the subpoena.  Ignoring the subpoena can result in an additional fine, and possibly additional disciplinary action from the Dental Board.

Additionally, the Notice of Complaint may include written questions from the investigator. Your answers may play a substantial part in determining how the investigation proceeds. They should be answered carefully and thoughtfully as part of a reasoned strategy for defending the claim.

What Happens During The Investigation?

The investigator will review the file and may interview both the patient and the doctor to obtain additional information. These interviews may be over the phone or in person, or they may be through written questions. There may be several rounds of interviews, depending on the nature of the case. During this interview process, everything the dentist says to the investigator can be considered in evaluating a potential violation.

The investigator will often involve a Dental Board consultant in the process. The consultant is a licensed dentist who will review the file. This can be critical because, in reviewing a complaint, the consultant does not just look at the patient’s complaints. Instead, the consultant will review all of the records and determine whether a violation exists, regardless of whether the violation is related to the patient’s complaint.

Consultants often find issues with charting, or documentation of informed consent, or screenings during prophylactic examinations. Even if these issues are not related to the reason why the patient filed the complaint, they can still rise to the level of unprofessional conduct and lead to disciplinary action. The consultant may also participate in the interview process.

How Does The Board Define Unprofessional Conduct?

A.R.S. § 32-1263 is the statute that identifies the types of conduct that can result in disciplinary action. The principal basis for complaints is “unprofessional conduct.” “Unprofessional conduct” is defined in A.R.S § 32-1201.01 and includes:

  • Abusing drugs or alcohol;
  • Committing gross malpractice or repeated acts of malpractice;
  • Knowingly making a false or fraudulent statement in connection with the practice of dentistry;
  • Conduct that poses a danger to the health, welfare, or safety of the patient or the public;
  • Repeated irregularities in billing; and
  • Failing to maintain adequate patient records

Once the investigator and consultant have completed their review of the file, they will send their findings to the Dental Board for further action, typically at the next meeting.

Do I Have To Go To The Dental Board Meeting?

Unless the dentist has agreed to a formal interview before the Dental Board, he or she does not have to attend the board meeting. However, in most cases, it is in the dentist’s best interests to either attend the board meeting or have an attorney attend on his or her behalf.

The Dental Board meets approximately once per month in Phoenix.  At the meetings, the Dental Board briefly reviews each case and decides what action to take. This is often the dentist’s only opportunity to argue his or her case before the Dental Board decides whether to impose formal discipline, or whether to resolve the case through non-disciplinary methods.

Additionally, in some cases patients will appear to argue their case to the Dental Board. If the dentist does not have representation, the Board may decide to take disciplinary action based solely on the information provided by the claimant.

Do I Need To Hire A Lawyer?

You do not have to hire a lawyer to represent you before the Dental Board, but there are good reasons for doing so. Dental Board investigations and hearings can be daunting. The process is governed by technical administrative rules and procedures.

However, having a lawyer can be advisable. A lawyer:

  • Knows how the investigation and complaint process works;
  • Knows how to respond to subpoenas and other requests for information during the investigation;
  • Can anticipate additional issues that may not be part of the original complaint;
  • Can advise you on your potential options and the potential penalties you may face;
  • Will advocate for you, compiling evidence to support your case and arguing for your position; and
  • Depending on the circumstances, also may be able to negotiate on your behalf to obtain a reduced penalty or a dismissal of your case.

What Kind Of Penalty Can I Face?

If the Dental Board believes a violation has occurred, it has several options, both non-disciplinary and disciplinary. The non-disciplinary actions can include a letter of concern or an order that the dentist take continuing education courses. There is essentially no way to appeal these orders, but they do not count as disciplinary action by the Dental Board.

If the Dental Board finds that a more serious violation has occurred, its options include the following:

  • Restrictions on the dentist’s ability to practice;
  • Censure;
  • Suspension of the dentist’s license; and
  • Revocation of the dentist’s license.

In addition to the Dental Board’s ability to restrict or revoke the dentist’s license to practice, the Dental Board can also order that restitution be paid to the patient. The Dental Board cannot award monetary damages, but it can order that the dentist refund any payment received as a result of the treatment.

Can I Appeal The Dental Board’s Decision?

A dentist who disagrees with the Dental Board’s disciplinary decision can file an appeal with the Arizona Office of Administrative Hearings. An administrative hearing is similar to a trial, with an administrative law judge presiding, and the dentist will be permitted to introduce evidence and call witnesses.

However, the administrative law judge’s findings are simply recommendations. The Dental Board is free to accept or reject the findings. Even if the dentist “wins” at the administrative hearing, the Dental Board can still impose the same penalty on the dentist. At that point, the dentist’s only recourse is to file a complaint for review with the Superior Court.

Therefore, for dentists who have received Dental Board complaints, it is critical to have legal counsel involved as early in the process as possible, to advise them and advocate on their behalf through each stage of the proceedings.

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Patrick T. Stanley

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Direct: (480) 219-5481

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