by guest contributor, Mark R. Brengelman, JD, MA

This article provides an initial perspective on the role of state boards of dentistry, which exist in each state and which regulate the practice of dentistry as a health care profession.  This article begins as a first part to this perspective (1 of 2 part series).

Each state has an independent body implementing a state dental practice act.  This can include regulation of the dentist, a dental hygienist, a dental assistant (in some states), the administration of anesthesia and sedation in a dental setting, and sometimes the dental facility itself, such as requirements for having certain medications and medical equipment in stock and disposing of sharps and biohazardous waste appropriately and safely.

State boards of dentistry have exclusive control over the dentist’s license to practice dentistry held by the dentist and other persons who are credentialed.  State dental boards derive their authority from the “police power” of the government to regulate for the protection of the health, welfare, safety, and morals of the public.  Kentucky’s Supreme Court opined over 110 years ago in 1911 that the police power authorized the state to prescribe qualifications for dentists and to treat dental professionals as a class of health care professionals subject to government regulation. Hodgen v. Commonwealth, 135 S.W. 311 (Ky. 1911).

Members of state dental boards are most often appointed by the state’s governor, and include dentists, hygienists, and often consumer members.  It is generally a thankless job with these private citizens serving a day a month to attend a meeting and do that work – usually for a small stipend and meals/mileage for each meeting for doing so.  Dental boards otherwise have full-time, government employees/staffers who carry out the day-to-day work.

State dental board act as gatekeepers who implement and enforce the minimum standards to be a dentist – the dental laws make you go to school, pass a test (or lots of tests!), and pay a fee to be a licensed dentist, and then to renew the license on a regular basis.  Lots of people know what it takes to be a dentist, but state dental boards also are tasked with policing their own, that is, how you get not to be a dentist. 

Our next article will review how dental boards operate effectively, or not, in their other important task of policing the profession from bad dentistry and bad dental care.  Health care practitioners and dentists need to know the operations of state dental board and their powers and actions to root out and to hold accountable dental professionals for waste, fraud, and abuse.

Mark R. Brengelman, JD, MA, ( practices health care law in Frankfort, Kentucky, where he is the immediate past Chair of the Health Law Section of the Kentucky Bar Association. For fifteen years, he was the Assistant Attorney General assigned as General Counsel and Prosecuting Attorney to the Kentucky Board of Dentistry.