Texas making dentists' disciplinary records more accessible

2010 09 17 11 09 46 85 Texas Flag 70

The Texas State Board of Dental Examiners is working to make dentists' disciplinary records more accessible, but critics say it's taken too long and the board isn't responsive to complaints about errant practitioners.

A 2009 report by the Texas State Auditor's Office chided the board for failing to adequately regulate dental licenses and for not including the names of all dentists who had been disciplined in its database.

"Inaccurate, incomplete, and inconsistent data in the agency's automated systems continues to weaken its ability to appropriately regulate licenses and to report accurate licensee information to the public," the report stated.

That year the state gave the board $600,000 to install a new computer system that would alleviate these issues; the system was supposed to be in place last August but so far it is not.

“We're not trying to withhold information.”
— Sherri Meek, Texas State Board of
     Dental Examiners

Sherri Meek, executive director of the dental board, told DrBicuspid.com that the project, which involves six agencies, "is complicated" but that the new system should be up and running in the next two months.

In the meantime, the board has come under fire from critics who say records detailing patient complaints and disciplinary action against dentists are not readily available.

But the board's site does list the names and disciplinary actions taken against errant dentists, Meek said. And, anyone can get details of the actions by direct request via e-mail or regular mail, she noted.

Details of disciplinary orders are scheduled to be available online, she added, although she isn't sure when.

"We're not trying to withhold information," she told DrBicuspid.com. "I understand the public's frustration that it's not available quickly, and we want to have that access immediate because it's public information and meant to protect the public."

More information needed

Some sources say there is more to the story.

A review of the board's disciplinary records conducted in July 2009 by the Austin American-Statesman found that the dental board was "less likely to take disciplinary action, slower to act, and far less likely to impose the most severe sanction, loss of a license, than the state medical board."

Mark Stankewitz, DDS, a Houston dentist who is a member of a group called Texans for Dental Reform, said the board is loathe to take action against dentists even when they deserve discipline.

"There's quite a number of multiple offenders that are simply allowed to continue practicing," he told DrBicuspid.com. "The issue is that there are a number of multiple offenders out there who don't want this information freely available."

He doubts if detailed information about disciplines will ever be immediately accessible online, he added.

And some patients claim the board isn't responsive to their complaints.

Pam Grunwald said she has had serious medical problems following dental implants three years ago. She claims she still suffers from a staphylococcal infection that resulted from the dentist doing a bone graft next to a tooth that was abscessed.

"I was seriously ill for many, many months, and it took me a long time to get better," she told DrBicuspid.com. "I had four surgeries in 10 days."

When the infection flares up, the muscles on the right side of her face become immobilized, leaving part of her face drooping, Grunwald said. "This is for the rest of my life; it's not short-term," she said.

In 2008 she sent the board a detailed complaint that included a file of documents an inch thick. She says she finally got a response in 2009, notifying her that her case had been closed because she did not provide enough information.

Tammy Chambers echoed Grunwald's frustrations after having problems with implants that she says were not positioned correctly in 2007. She too said she didn't get a response from the board until 2009, and that the board told her that the case had been closed due to insufficient documentation.

"They did nothing," she told DrBicuspid.com.

Meek said she couldn't comment on specific cases, and she also declined to comment on Dr. Stankewitz's assertions.

Even though the board's website lists the names of dentists who've been disciplined and what action was taken, including warnings and license revocations, Grunwald said it doesn't provide enough information.

"There are no details of what the discipline involved," she noted. "It could be something minor or something very serious."

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