Low-income people in Arkansas used to be able to get their teeth cleaned cheaply, thanks to Dr. Ben Burris. Now, instead of paying $99 (or $69 for children), they have to pay hundreds of dollars for a cleaning. Burris, who is a dentist, had to stop offering the cleanings because the state board of dental examiners told him that he couldn’t offer basic dental services.
According to the board, Arkansas law says dentists can’t offer dental services if they are also licensed as a specialist. Burris is a licensed orthodontist. Orthodontists, by the way, normally employ dental hygienists who clean teeth, and that’s all perfectly legal as long as the teeth getting cleaned also get fitted for braces later.
Of course, the restriction on specialists offering services outside their specialty has nothing to do with protecting consumers and everything to do with limiting competition in basic dental services—so that dentists can charge more. No patients had complained about Burris’s service. At a hearing of the dental board, notes the Institute for Justice, “Board members and general dentists condemned Ben for offering the cleanings. There was no allegation that Ben had endangered, much less harmed, anyone.”
On behalf of Burris and his colleague Elizabeth Grohl, IJ filed a lawsuit on Tuesday against the board of dental examiners. The lawsuit contends that the restriction against specialists offering basic dental services serves no purpose except to protect general dentists from competition, and that the restriction thus violates the 14th Amendment’s Equal Protection, Due Process and Privileges or Immunities Clauses.