ADA vote allows specialists to practice outside specialty

By Donna Domino, features editor

November 1, 2016 -- Specialists now will be able to practice outside their announced specialty, according to a resolution approved by the ADA House of Delegates during the 2016 annual meeting in Denver. The change was expected after a U.S. judge ruled in January 2016 that a Texas regulation barring dentists from advertising themselves as "specialists" was unconstitutional.

Resolution 65 passed with a large majority, according to multiple delegates who attended the meeting.

The revision to the ADA's Code of Ethics allows dentists who practice a specialty such as orthodontists to perform procedures such as teeth whitening, which they had not been allowed to do under the regulations of most state dental acts and state dental associations.

"Dentists who choose to announce specialization should use 'specialist in' and shall devote a sufficient portion of their practice to the announced specialty or specialties to maintain expertise in that specialty or those specialties," according to the new resolution.

Benjamin Burris, DDS
Benjamin Burris, DDS.

The change was expected after the American Academy of Implant Dentistry (AAID) won a legal battle when a U.S. judge ruled in January 2016 that certain regulations of the Texas State Board of Dental Examiners restrict the First Amendment right to free speech of AAID member dentists. As a result of the decision, dentists who have earned board certification from certifying boards sponsored by the AAID may now advertise that they are specialists in Texas.

"I feel the ADA had no choice but to acknowledge common sense and agree to follow the law, given what's happened in Texas recently," Benjamin Burris, DDS, an Arkansas orthodontist, wrote in an email to "I'm happy any time pragmatism, access to care, and logic prevail."

Dr. Burris and another Arkansas orthodontist filed a 2014 lawsuit against the Arkansas Board of Dental Examiners seeking to change the state's law regarding which practitioners can provide teeth cleaning and other general dentistry services. They had been offering teeth cleanings until the dental board threatened to sanction them if they did not stop. Their suit was dismissed in November 2014.

“I feel the ADA had no choice but to acknowledge common sense and agree to follow the law.”
— Benjamin Burris, DDS

The issue was also the subject of a lawsuit filed by an Ohio endodontist Russell Kiser, DDS, regarding a state law that forbids dentists from advertising as specialists when they also perform general dentistry. In 2009, Dr. Kiser, DDS, received a letter from the Ohio State Dental Board informing him that he was illegally "performing procedures outside the scope of endodontics" while "holding himself out as a specialist," according to the lawsuit.

An appellate court ruled in September 2016 that the suit can proceed.

The revision to the Code of Ethics "could be viewed by dentists to have huge repercussions on dentistry at large and especially on specialists," Dr. Burris said. "Basically, the ADA has no real power, and now that the courts have said that they don't care about the ADA- approved specialties, the ADA either had to change its position or become irrelevant."

The ADA did not respond to requests for comment at press time.

Copyright © 2016

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