Why do Maine dentists keep practicing despite serious violations?
A recent research study performed by WGME (a Maine affiliate of CBS) found that dozens of dentists in Maine are continuing to practice after their work was documented as falling below the standard of care. In some cases, these dentists had even admitted to charges of incompetence. The researchers reviewed hundreds of pages of disciplinary data released by the Maine Board of Dental Examiners, dating back to the year 2000.
After reviewing many egregious cases of apparent dental malpractice, it was found that the Board only very rarely administered license revocation, the steepest punishment. While the whole purpose of the Board of Dental Examiners is “to protect the public against practitioners who’ve either fallen below a standard of care or have acted unprofessionally,” according to Penny Vaillancourt, the organization’s executive director, the research team found that, of the 90 dentists disciplined since 2000, almost half of those dentists were still practicing. As a matter of fact, since 2000 only four dentists have had their licenses revoked in the state of Maine and only eight have been denied the ability to renew their licenses.
What were the charges?
The charges of malpractice brought against Maine dentists covered a wide range of circumstances, including:
- Paperwork mistakes
- Engaging in sexual contact with a patient who was under anesthesia (nitrous oxide)
- Pulling a permanent tooth instead of a baby tooth
- Hosting wild office parties
- Ignoring infection control procedures
Dentists who were found guilty of above activities were all disciplined, but all are still in practice. Vaillancourt explains this by stating that the Board’s goal was to bring the dentists back into compliance with professional standards, rather than to take away their ability to practice dentistry.
Why does Maine have such a bad track record with dental malpractice?
One medical malpractice attorney in the state of Maine says that the system is “more physician-friendly than patient-friendly,” a viewpoint to which the research study attests. According to this same Maine attorney, the cost of suing for dental malpractice in the state is likely to be higher than the damages recovered.
What does it take for a Maine dentist to lose his or her license?
When Vaillancourt was asked this question, she replied that “It’s really about whether there’s a pattern of behavior. Examination of the research study shows that the dentists who actually lost their licenses either had committed repeat offenses (some in other states), had ongoing substance abuse issues, or had failed to improve after being admonished.
Because there is a shortage of dentists in Maine –the state has fewer dentists than the national average and most counties in Maine are designated as lacking healthcare professionals in the field — it seems plausible that, this may be a factor in the Board’s reluctance to revoke licenses. Vaillancourt, however, denies this.
Fortunately for those who live in New York State, dental malpractice lawyers are less restricted in their search for justice. If you believe you have been misdiagnosed or mistreated by a dentist, you should consult with an attorney who specializes in this field and who is reputable and highly skilled.