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Standing Firm in the Specialty Advertising Debate

Last month, AAE president-elect Dr. Keith V. Krell and I had the pleasure of representing the AAE at the Dental Specialty Group meeting in Chicago. The leadership of each of the nine ADA-recognized specialties attends this biannual meeting to get an update from the ADA on topical issues and to discuss items of mutual interest among the dental specialties.

This year, the hot topic was again the issue of specialty advertising. The AAE is front and center in this debate, and we owe our executive director Ken Widelka a pat on the back for keeping this issue top of mind for our organization.

During the DSG meeting, Craig Busey, general counsel for the American Dental Association, presented an update precipitated by the 2017 5th Circuit Court decision in AAID vs. Parker that determined that advertising regulations permitting use of the term “specialty” only in connection with one of the ADA-recognized specialties violates First Amendment rights of dentists, such as implantologists, who have earned credentials from other certifying bodies. Following this decision, the American Board of Dental Specialties, an independent organization representing certifying boards in four areas of practice that are not currently recognized by the National Commission on Recognition of Dental Specialties and Certifying Boards, has sought to persuade state dental boards with similar regulations to completely deregulate specialty advertising, or be faced with a lawsuit.

It is the position of the AAE that regulating dental specialty advertising protects the public and therefore should be undertaken by state boards of dentistry. The AAE, together with the ADA and other specialty organizations, engaged outside legal counsel, Jack Bierig of Sidley Austin LLP, to develop a legal brief providing guidance to State Dental Boards on this matter, and outline a path forward for boards that would uphold regulations for advertising as a specialist while at the same time not risk violation of first amendment rights. Mr. Bierig’s legal brief outlining our position on misleading advertising is viewable here.

I will urge all members to get involved at your local level! While the AAE will continue to advocate on the national arena, these issues are also begging for local action. The reason we have been effective in states including Iowa (thank you, Dr. Krell), North Carolina (thank you, Dr. Levin) and Washington (my state), is largely because local members identified action taken by the ABDS to change state regulations. Get involved! Get on the update email list for your state boards or regulatory commissions. Stay attuned to your state AAE and ADA constituent societies to keep abreast of those issues affecting our specialty at the state and local level, then let us know what is happening. The general dentist groups having the greatest impact on expansion of the specialist definition are taking action at the state level, and those states where specialists are not responding are changing their rules — not always in our (or the public’s) best interest.

This is not a fight between general dentists and endodontists. It is an attempt by a limited group of “practice limited to” (primarily implantologists) dentists who would like to claim specialty status. Our position has long been that limiting claims of specialty status protects the public and maintains a level of public trust far superior to a “free-for-all” advertising push. Taken to the next level, would it be in the public’s interest to allow the advertising by non-dentists of dental or dental hygiene services?

We feel that public health and safety are best served when specialty status requires an approved residency at a CODA-accredited institution, not through unregulated accumulation of an arbitrary number of CE credits. Such forms of study are to be encouraged and appreciated. Many of our members have achieved distinction in groups such as the IADT and others through such courses, but they do not equate to the same knowledge and skill attained by completion of a CODA-approved residency.

The AAE stands firm in our position, and we will continue to keep you updated on this very important matter.

Virginia Advocacy Action Alert: Virginia State Board of Dentistry public comment open until September 5. The AAE strongly opposes deregulation of dental specialty advertising. Not regulating dental specialty advertising could harm patients. We strongly encourage our members in Virginia to voice their opinions on this matter to the Virginia State Board of Dentistry. Take action now!