Arkansas Dental Board Better Brace for Lawsuit

J. Justin Wilson
J. Justin Wilson · May 23, 2014


Little Rock, Ar.—Dr. Ben Burris is an Arkansas orthodontist who wants to offer low-cost teeth cleanings to people who cannot otherwise afford them. But it is illegal for him to perform basic dental services, even though he is a licensed dentist.

Arkansas flat-out bans licensed dental specialists, like orthodontists, from doing even simple dental work outside of their specialty. Today, Dr. Ben and the Institute for Justice, a public-interest law firm, filed a major federal lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of this law.

“Arkansas needs more access to dental care, not less,” said Matt Miller, lead attorney on the case and executive director of IJ’s Texas Chapter. “The state shouldn’t be using its power to stop Dr. Ben Burris from helping people by offering services that he is perfectly qualified and willing to offer.”

Dr. Ben owns Braces by Burris, one of the largest orthodontic offices in the U.S. He has 11 offices across Arkansas and employs nearly 100 people. In 2013, Dr. Ben started offering low-cost dental cleanings at a fraction of what other dentists charge for the same service, to give low-income families access to regular dental care. Nearly three-quarters of low-income Arkansas children do not have regular access to preventative dental care; among adults, the number is nearly four in ten.

Within weeks of starting the program, Dr. Ben was told by the Arkansas State Board of Dental Examiners that he was breaking the law and that his licenses would be in “severe jeopardy” if he continued offering the cleanings.

“The Dental Board is going after me because I want to shake up an industry that desperately needs innovation” said Burris. “As a dentist, I took an oath to help people, and offering top-notch dental care at an affordable price is how I want to do that. I should not be punished because I chose to get a specialty license. I have the capacity, qualifications and ability to help people, but I am being denied the opportunity to give back.”

The only reason the Board is enforcing this law against Dr. Ben is to protect their own pocketbooks. Restrictions on who can provide dental care raise the price of that care by an estimated 12 percent nationwide. And there is ample evidence that many of these restrictions do nothing to protect consumers.

“Seven other states have laws like this one,” said Miller. “Across the country, qualified people are being prevented from offering dental services because of outdated laws that needlessly restrict access to care. Winning this case will mean other entrepreneurs like Dr. Ben will have the freedom to bring innovative changes to their field.”

For more on today’s lawsuit, visit Founded in 1991, the Virginia-based Institute for Justice is the national law firm for liberty.