Mohave County
May 2024
Volume 24 Issue 3

Concerns over dental practice oversight amid malpractice instances

Health, January 2024, Journal | 0 comments

January 2024

ARIZONA —Recent incidents involving Arizona dentists have raised significant concerns about the state’s dental practice oversight. These cases include malpractice instances such as drug misuse, DUI, sexual misconduct, over-sedation of patients, and drug use. They bring to light systemic issues within the Arizona Dental Board’s regulatory framework and the American Dental Association’s response to these challenges.
Arizona law mandates that dental licensees and applicants must promptly report certain criminal charges, yet there have been instances where dentists facing serious charges have continued their practice with lenient consequences.
One notable case involved an anesthesiologist and a dentist linked to a child’s over-sedation, resulting in death. The anesthesiologist received a three-year probation, allowing supervised practice, while the dentist was required to complete 10 hours of continuing education as part of a non-disciplinary consent agreement. These outcomes, considered lenient by many, underscore a pattern of minimal disciplinary actions by the Board.
In another case, a dentist prescribed controlled substances for his family and staff for over a year and engaged in unnecessary dental procedures, including tooth extractions without valid reasons. Despite these serious infractions, the dentist retained his license for an extended period before it was revoked.
Critics argue that the Arizona Dental Board’s practices inadequately protect the public. State auditors have repeatedly criticized the board for its failure to follow essential procedures like verifying licensing requirements and timely processing complaints, resulting in an opaque and dysfunctional regulatory system.
Furthermore, there are reports of the Board being unaware of significant adverse outcomes, including a case where a patient died from receiving ten times the proper dosage of anesthesia. Such incidents highlight the gap between the Board’s regulatory responsibilities and its actual practices.
The Arizona Dental Board’s approach to disciplinary action contrasts sharply with the policies for license reinstatement. According to Arizona Revised Statutes § 32-1235, a dentist whose license has been suspended, revoked, or surrendered can apply for a new license if they can demonstrate complete rehabilitation concerning the conduct that led to the disciplinary action. However, an application for reinstatement cannot be submitted less than five years after the date of suspension, revocation, or surrender. This policy suggests a significant waiting period for reinstatement, contrasting with the often immediate and less severe disciplinary actions.
The American Dental Association (ADA) emphasizes the seriousness of dental board complaints, acknowledging that they can have life-changing consequences for dentists. The ADA advises dentists to maintain meticulous patient records to reduce the likelihood of complaints. While the ADA provides guidance on handling complaints, there is a noticeable lack of direct intervention or oversight in specific state board decisions.
In response to these concerns, the Arizona Legislature has taken notice. At a health and human services committee meeting in January 2023, the board’s executive director, Edmonson, highlighted the need for more funding to appropriately pay investigators, a crucial aspect in adequately addressing complaints and ensuring public safety. The Legislature gave the board a two-year period to implement improvements.
The issues with the Arizona Dental Board reflect broader concerns in the dental regulatory landscape of the state. The incidents and audit findings suggest a need for systemic changes to ensure better protection for patients and more effective oversight of dental professionals. It also raises questions about the balance between protecting the public and rehabilitating practitioners who have committed malpractice. The coming years will be crucial in determining whether the Arizona Dental Board can reform its practices to meet these challenges effectively.
In summary, while the Arizona Dental Board and the ADA have established guidelines and procedures to regulate dental practice and ensure public safety, their effectiveness has been questioned. The cases of lenient disciplinary actions, combined with the Board’s structural and procedural deficiencies, point towards a need for more stringent oversight and accountability in the dental profession in Arizona.
­—Jeremy Webb

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