Joseph P. Hougnon, Attorney at Law

Dental License Defense Attorney


As of April of this year, there were nearly 30,000 licensed dentists in active practice in the State of California. The licensing of those dentists, along with dental assistants and other oral health care professionals is administered by the Dental Board of California or DBC.

Pursuant to its website, the mission of the DBC is to protect the health and safety of consumers by taking action to enforce compliance with the Dental Practice Act and other laws of the State of California. According to the DBC’s Disciplinary Guidelines, the Board has an “obligation to protect the consumers of dental services from unsafe, incompetent, negligent or impaired dentists and dental auxiliaries.” Violations of the Dental Practice Act are enforced by discipline imposed by the DBC.

HOW DO DENTAL LICENSE COMPLAINTS WORK?

There are several ways to trigger a disciplinary investigation by the DBC. The most common of these include complaints lodged with the DBC. These complaints can be made by anyone – a patient,  a co-worker, or even family member. Some of the more common complaints faced by dental professionals include alleged professional negligence, conviction of a crime, and substance abuse.

It should be noted that when renewing a license, the DBC requires all dental professionals to report any criminal convictions that occurred since the last renewal. Obviously, a failure to do so will, in and of itself, trigger an investigation once the DBC learns of the conviction. Today it is virtually impossible to hide a conviction, given that dental professionals are now required to submit fingerprints as a condition of licensure. The judicial authority in question will usually automatically report the conviction to the DBC.

Complaints Regarding Professional Negligence

If a complaint regarding professional negligence is received by the DBC, it is investigated and evaluated to see if it is warranted and has merit. Investigators will collect information relevant to the complaint. Commonly, the dental records of the complaining party, as well as any additional relevant medical records are gathered. The complaint and records are then reviewed by DBC dental consultants. If the investigation reveals that the complaint is unwarranted, the matter is closed. The matter will also be closed if the complaint is deemed warranted but there is insufficient information to prove the allegations made. If an investigation reveals that the complaint is warranted with sufficient evidence to prove the allegations, the matter is advanced for either inspection or investigation.

In applicable situations, inspectors from the DBC will examine and evaluate the dental practice in question, looking for any unsafe or unhygienic conditions. If any areas of the practice violate applicable standards, administrative warnings and citations may be issued. The actions taken will depend on the hazard level posed to the public. As always, if the inspection reveals that the complaint in question is unfounded, the matter will be closed and the complaint will be dismissed.

Complaints Regarding Criminal Activity

Alternatively, in cases where there are allegations of criminal activity, investigators will examine relevant records and interview witnesses in an attempt to find evidence that supports the allegations at hand. They will specifically look for activity that shows that sexual misconduct, substance abuse, drug theft, or insurance fraud is or was taking place. Where such evidence is found, the matter is forwarded to the California Attorney General for prosecution. Administratively, the DBC will then move forward to suspend or revoke the license in question.

In cases where a criminal conviction that involves substance abuse is an issue, say a DUI or drug possession case, the DBC offers a Diversion Program. The Diversion Program is confidential. It is designed to help dentists, and dental assistants who have a substance abuse problem get the help they need while avoiding a loss of license for offenses committed while under the influence. In certain cases, voluntary admission to the program may obviate the need to file any formal disciplinary charges.

Regarding discipline, the DBC can order that a professional license is revoked, suspended or that a practitioner is placed on probation. In determining what discipline should be imposed, the DBC guidelines recommend that the following factors be considered:

  • The nature and severity of the act, offense or crime
  • The actual or potential harm posed to the public
  • The actual or potential harm posed to a patient
  • Whether any prior discipline exists
  • If so, the nature and number of violations
  • Any evidence of mitigation
  • Any aggravating evidence
  • Any evidence of rehabilitation
  • In criminal cases, compliance with the conditions of sentencing and probation
  • Prior criminal acts and
  • The amount of time that has passed since the act, offense or crime occurred.

In terms of mitigating evidence, the Board recommends that the following factors be considered:

  • The length of time in practice
  • Absence of prior discipline
  • The illness or death of a family member which may have affected professional performance and
  • Voluntary and early admission of an act, offense or crime.

HOW CAN A PROFESSION LICENSE DEFENSE ATTORNEY HELP?

Remember that your professional license is, in essence, your livelihood. You need to take any allegations brought against you very seriously. In some cases, you may not have engaged in any misconduct whatsoever, but are simply the target of an unfounded complaint. In other instances, stress or substance abuse may have brought about behaviors that are in no way typical. In any case, an attorney with experience in professional license defense can look at the facts of your case and prepare a defense that will protect both your license and your professional reputation.

Don’t make the mistake of thinking that you can have a discussion with representatives of the DBC and make the whole matter go away. This will not happen. Very often what you say to the DBC will only serve to make the situation worse. The Board is charged with protecting the public from dental misconduct. Once they receive a complaint, they are obligated to investigate it and impose the appropriate discipline if necessary. Your interests and livelihood are beside the point.

That is why it is important that you consult with an experienced dental license defense attorney about the specifics of your situation.

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Joe Hougnon, Esq.

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