Committee to Defend the Right of All Dentists to Practice Orthodontics & the Legal Defense Fund
A mission of the IAO is to protect the rights of General Dentist Practitioners performing orthodontics. As such the Committee to Defend the Right of All Dentists to Practice Orthodontics and the Legal Defense Fund were created. Recently a case was presented that the IAO had to take action on.
The details are posted below:
In March of 2018, an IAO member, Dr. Amy Davidson, reached out to the home office. She was concerned that an investigative government agency, Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs (LARA), was excessively regulating the practice’s website. A singular dental board investigator was personally reviewing the site of this one practice. The Dr. Davidson had to endure months of scrutiny and directives from the LARA investigator. She had amended the practice’s website on several occasions at his directive before ever contacting the IAO. The Dr. Davidson finally reached her breaking point when the investigator required her to use an asterisk after each time the word orthodontics appeared on her website. This directed the reader to a disclaimer ‘Dr. X is not a licensed specialist in orthodontics’. The same asterisk would also have to be applied anywhere the abbreviation IAO appeared because it stands for International Association for Orthodontics. Dr. Davidson felt that being regulated for utilizing the legal name of an organization she belonged to further pushed the line of what is acceptable.
After a discussion with the home office, the Dr. Davidson was carefully instructed on the next steps of information gathering. During this stage of the case Dr. Steve Galella, chair of the Committee to Defend the Right of All Dentists to Practice Orthodontics, was contacted. The home office was directed to reach out to the association’s lawyer Dr. Frank Recker immediately. He was informed of the case details. On behalf of the IAO, Dr. Recker consulted the Dr. Davidson and advised her “that the situation was verging on, or possibly already constituted, a violation of her civil rights relating to First Amendment protections for commercial free speech.”
With the Dr. Davidson’s permission and the support of the IAO, Dr. Recker contacted LARA. He noted multiple objections to the investigator’s inquiry. These included the First Amendment issues and a potential antitrust scenario. Dr. Recker “offered to have the issue decided by the federal court in Lansing if they disagreed with his assertions.” After this point, the member had no further contact from the LARA investigator. Furthermore, the LARA authorities sent a response to Dr. Recker’s letter. It stated that there had been no violation of the dental practice act and that the Dental Board had closed the case.
The Impact to all General Practitioners Practicing Orthodontics:
If Dr. Davidson were forced to use an asterisk where ever the word orthodontics, including in the titles of organizations she belonged to, appeared on her website it could create a precedent. This could snowball into more stringent regulations for all general practitioners practicing orthodontics down the road. This excessive level of regulation clearly has a negative impact. It could create a perception that patients will not receive the same quality treatment if they do not go to a specialist.
Dr. Frank Recker has provided an account of the case and his actions:
Frank R. Recker, DDS, JD
Recently, the IAO requested that I provide assistance to a credentialed member of the IAO who was being investigated by the Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs (LARA). The investigation focused on the member’s website and its contents related to orthodontic dental services. The advertisement also listed membership in, and credentials earned through, the IAO. The regulatory investigation had been ongoing, and involved a LARA investigator personally directing deletions and amendments to the dentist’s website. This was facially unusual in that I have never seen any dental board investigator take such a ‘hands on’ approach by personally screening and/or controlling dental advertisements. Even an experienced attorney needs to have a grasp on recent First Amendment case law to make such evaluations.
On behalf of the IAO, I consulted with the member and advised that the situation was verging on, or possibly already constituted, a violation of her civil rights relating to First Amendment protections for commercial free speech. She had already endured several months of ‘scrutiny’ and directives from the LARA investigator, with no end in sight. She had also amended her website at the direction of the investigator on several occasions. The IAO member was instructed to place an asterisk (*) after each time the word ‘orthodontics’ appeared, directing the reader to the disclaimer ‘Dr. X is not a licensed specialist in orthodontics.’ Additionally, the investigator directed that each time ‘IAO’ appeared it must have a similar asterisk and disclosure since the word ‘orthodontics’ was used in the organization’s name!
Dr. X had consulted with her dental malpractice carrier attorney who advised her to change her ads as directed by the investigator. Clearly this ‘legal’ advice indicated no experience in the everyday application of First Amendment case law and no willingness to fight for a dental insured. Even worse, the insurance company attorney also refused to discuss the matter with me, allegedly ‘fearing’ an ethical violation for speaking with another attorney who was not admitted to practice law in Michigan! (Memo: Never blindly accept the advice of an insurance carrier retained malpractice attorney on any non-malpractice related issue.)
With the dentist’s permission and the support of the IAO, I made contact with LARA. In noting my concerns and objections to this ongoing ‘inquiry,’ I also pointed out that I had obtained a document from LARA that indicated their communication with the Michigan Association of Orthodontists (MAO). Indeed, the MAO website has a link to file complaints against ‘general dentists’ relative to advertising. The link directs them to a representative of their governmental lobbying firm: “All advertising complaints should be emailed to .”
In my communication to LARA, I further pointed out the First Amendment issues at hand, and a potential antitrust scenario if the Board of Dentistry or LARA was working in concert with the MAO to inhibit or ‘chill’ the rights of the IAO member for anticompetitive reasons. I also offered to have the issue decided by the federal court in Lansing if they disagreed with my assertions.
The dentist had no further contact from the LARA investigator after my letter was sent. But, after several months had elapsed, it seemed that there would be no written response to, or acknowledgement of, my letter. Then, just recently, I received a response from the LARA authorities, indicating that there had been no violation of the dental practice act and that the Dental Board had closed the case.
This situation, to which the IAO had rapidly responded on behalf of its member, illustrates how dentists can be intimidated and threatened by competitive groups or outside interests. Although the American Association of Orthodontists (AAO) has recently created its own legal fund for ‘lobbying’ purposes, it is unconscionable that any trade association would even appear to have such influence or control over a state regulatory agency.
In short, I applaud the IAO for supporting both its own name and the constitutional rights of its members. Only by confronting and challenging such actions can dental boards be dissuaded from acting at the behest of outside influences, to the potential detriment of the constitutionally protected property interest in a member’s dental license.
Dr. Amy Davidson has provided a testimonial on her ordeal with Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs, and the assistance provided by the IAO:
Amy Davidson, DMD
I want to say that I am so thankful to the IAO itself and their Legal Defense Fund/Team. Their professionalism, compassion, determination, and care for me as a IAO member was nothing short of truly extraordinary!
As a general dentist that has almost exclusively provided orthodontic services for the past 12 years, suddenly I found myself in a situation where my rights to advertise orthodontic services were being threatened. This threat was initiated via a formal complaint by my State’s Orthodontic Association (Orthodontists). It was their action that prompted my State’s Board of Dentistry to begin making unfathomable demands in regards to my website advertising. This was specifically in reference to the use of the word “orthodontics.”
It did not take long for me to conclude that my rights to both practice and advertise my orthodontic services were potentially being violated. For several months I had unsuccessfully attempted to resolve this issue with my assigned malpractice attorney. I soon realized I needed to seek legal help elsewhere. I called the IAO and proceeded to explain my situation. Immediately, they were unbelievably attentive and quick to take action. Within 24-48 hours, the IAO and their legal defense team provided me with the resources, knowledge, and expertise I needed. They reassured me that they would help to legally fight for what was right! They were very confident and passionate about helping one of their members! I cannot explain enough how much that meant to me. I felt as though they truly cared for me. It was amazing!
After several intense months of accusations (from my State Board), the IAO worked hard to defended me as one individual practitioner. However, they also indirectly stood up for every other IAO practitioner who is passionate about orthodontics. Clearly, the IAO is fully committed to helping to protect their members rights to practice and advertise orthodontics. And with that, I applaud them for their dedication, commitment, and honesty. My membership to the IAO has without a doubt proven to be truly invaluable! I am forever grateful to the IAO in helping me though this experience. Thank you.