North Carolina's dental community is relatively small and tight-knit. According to the State Board of Dental Examiners, there are fewer than 10,000 licensed dentists in North Carolina, a little more than half of whom currently practice. Your dental colleagues understand the unique day-to-day stresses of the practice in a way non-dentists do not, including the surge of anxiety that hits when you find out a patient has filed a complaint with the Board. Patient complaints often arise due to misunderstandings, patients' failure to properly follow post-treatment instructions or unrealistic expectations, but the Board is still required to investigate each and every complaint it receives.
The Lento Law Firm Professional-License Defense Team's North Carolina Attorneys Can Help Ease the Stress of Resolving a Complaint
It's alarming to find a letter from the Board in your mailbox informing you that a patient has filed a complaint against you. Some professionals get so upset that they try to shut it out of their minds for the time being. That's never a wise course of action–and you don't need to handle the problem on your own when the Lento Law Firm Professional License Defense Team can provide you with an experienced, trustworthy license-defense lawyer.
Just as drilling teeth and filling cavities requires specialized training and experience, so does dealing with the State Board of Dental Examiners. Responding to a complaint from the Board is not a simple process, and even the brightest professionals have trouble representing themselves to their best advantage. The Lento Law Firm Team of professional-license defense lawyers is familiar with the Board's policies and procedures and is ready to assist you. Call us today at 888.535.3686 or submit your details online, and we will contact you.
The North Carolina Dental Practice Act
North Carolina requires all those practicing in the field of dentistry to comply with the regulations of the North Carolina Dental Practice Act.
As detailed in Section 90-40.1 of the North Carolina General Statutes, the Dental Practice Act lists 25 areas of conduct for which the State Board of Dental Examiners may "revoke or suspend a license to practice dentistry" or "invoke such other disciplinary measures as it deems fit and proper." They include:
- Negligence or incompetence in the practice of dentistry;
- Employing a person to provide dental services who is not licensed in North Carolina;
- Falsely holding oneself out as a specialist in a type of dentistry that requires specific training and licensing;
- Committing an act of malpractice;
- Practicing fraud, deceit, or misrepresentation in an effort to acquire or retain patients;
- Engaging in any dental practice that violates the Dental Practice Act;
- Advertising in a way that is untruthful, fraudulent, or misleading;
- Lying about one's skills, abilities, and experience in an attempt to attract more patients;
- Falsely claiming to specialize in an area of dentistry for which the dentist lacks the required training;
- Giving others any of the drugs or narcotics commonly used in the practice for an illegal purpose;
- Any harmful acts carried out by a dental hygienist or dental assistant working under the dentist's supervision;
- Unsanitary offices, practices, or techniques; and
- Unprofessional conduct as defined by the Board. This is a broad area encompassing misconduct not directly associated with dentistry, such as driving under the influence or being arrested for something else.
The Lento Law Firm Team Can Help Protect Your License
Any dental professional knows that your license is more than a piece of paper to be framed and hung on your office wall. It's a symbol of the weeks, months, and years of work devoted to undergraduate and post-graduate studies, leading to the proud day you were granted a license to practice.
Equally important, your license is a basic necessity for earning a living in your chosen profession. A misconduct complaint is a serious matter that potentially threatens your livelihood and your family's health and welfare.
A member of the Lento Law Firm Professional License Defense Team can advocate on your behalf and help you achieve a better resolution than the penalty you might have expected to receive without representation. Call us at 888.535.3686 or submit your details online, and we will contact you.
How the Complaint Process Works
The North Carolina State Board of Dental Examiners' website shows members of the public how to file a Consumer Complaint Form against a dentist. Notably, the site also provides forms allowing other dentists to file complaints against colleagues. Anyone wishing to submit a complaint must print out the form, fill it in, and then mail it to the State Board of Dental Examiners. The Board requires anyone filing a complaint to be willing to appear as a witness, testify before a panel of Board dentists and staff members, and be cross-examined about their allegations.
As a practical matter, these initial steps–requiring that the form be printed out and mailed, that the complainant be willing to testify, and allowing the dentist or the dentist's legal representative to cross-examine them–make it more of a challenge to file a complaint. On the one hand, this probably reduces the number of frivolous or casual complaints; on the other hand, anyone filing a complaint is likely to feel very strongly about the matter.
The North Carolina State Board of Dental Examiners Requires Due Process in Discipline Hearings
Section 90.231 of the North Carolina General Statutes requires that anyone whose license is challenged be notified and given an opportunity to be heard by the State Board of Dental Examiners. Before initiating an investigation, the Board will contact the dental professional and request a written response. Even if you think you can draft your own response, it's smart to consult with a Lento Law Firm Professional License Defense Team attorney who's had experience dealing with the Board to make sure your letter contains all the information the Board needs to evaluate your case.
Once the Board has received the response (or if the dental professional does not respond within the mandatory time limit), staff investigators begin contacting and interviewing people familiar with the dental professional. If the evidence suggests that a dental regulation has been violated, the Board may then schedule an administrative-law hearing on the matter. These hearings are similar to courtroom hearings, although slightly less formal.
North Carolina law allows a dentist charged with misconduct the right to conduct discovery and to interview and depose the accuser and others who have knowledge of the facts. The Lento Law Firm Team's experienced professional license-defense lawyers understand how the Board's discipline system works. Their knowledge, combined with their calm, confident approach, can ease your mind as you proceed through the process. They can help you navigate the State Dental Board bureaucracy and achieve a more favorable outcome than you would on your own or by using a civil-trial lawyer unfamiliar with the Board's policies and procedures.
Professional-license defense isn't something just any attorney can handle. Just as a serious illness requires an experienced doctor, so do serious issues that threaten one's license call for lawyers with significant experience defending dental licenses before the State Board of Dental Examiners.
The Lento Law Firm Team members are prepared to advocate vigorously on your behalf. After meeting with you, your professional license defense attorney will interview witnesses and help you gather documents and other evidence to support your case. If need be, they will argue the case before the Board–but many times, the matter can be resolved without any formal argument through negotiation.
Before any hearing is scheduled, your Lento Law Firm Team attorney will make contact with the Board and initiate discussions about resolving the matter without a hearing. If initial negotiations are not successful, your professional license defense attorney may request that the Board schedule a settlement conference, where your attorney may be able to resolve the matter with a consent order.
If the two sides fail to successfully negotiate a consent order, then a hearing will be scheduled on the Board calendar. Administrative-law hearings are not conducted in courtrooms, but they resemble court hearings in that all those testifying must take an oath to tell the truth. Your attorney will go over your testimony with you and discuss the kinds of cross-examination questions you should expect to be asked.
After the hearing, the Board may take any of the following actions:
- Send you a letter of exoneration;
- Send you a letter of caution
- Send you a letter of reprimand
- Put you on probation, the conditions of which may require that you take certain continuing education classes while continuing to practice dentistry
- Suspension of your license for a specific number of months or years
- Revocation of your license
The State Board of Dental Examiners Publishes the Names of Dental Professionals Who Have Been Sanctioned
The North Carolina State Board of Dental Examiners' site includes a link to the names of dental professionals recently disciplined for having violated the applicable standard of care in the practice of dentistry. A typical sample of sanctionable conduct includes:
- Failure to properly assess a patient's vital signs before sedation;
- Failure to obtain informed consent for sedation;
- A routine office inspection by Board staff revealed that the dentist was using unlicensed staff to administer anesthesia;
- A routine office inspection by Board staff revealed that the office lacked the medications necessary to treat medical emergencies that might occur during procedures;
- Failure to properly assess a patient before sedating, resulting in a medical emergency;
- Improper diagnosis of dental problems, followed by improper treatment;
- A routine office inspection by Board staff revealed that the required emergency medications were missing or expired;
- A routine office inspection by Board staff revealed that dental equipment was not functioning properly;
- A routine office inspection by Board staff revealed that patient anesthesia records did not have all the required documentation;
- A finding that a licensed dental hygienist had treated patients while under the influence of impairment-causing substances in violation of the dentist's duty to properly supervise all staff members who treat patients. The finding resulted in discipline for both the dental hygienist and the dentist.
Depending on the severity of the conduct and the amount of patient harm, the Board has imposed penalties ranging from a letter of reprimand to a multi-year license suspension, an indefinite suspension, and permanent revocation.
Trouble Obtaining or Renewing a Dental License? The Lento Law Firm Team Can Help
Sometimes, past incidents not related to the practice of dentistry can present a roadblock to being granted a license or having it renewed. The legislature has given the State Board of Dental Examiners the legal authority to deny or refuse to renew the license of a dental professional whose past history is deemed problematic, such as in the following situations:
- Having used drugs, intoxicants, or narcotics to the extent that their fitness to practice dentistry was impaired;
- Having been convicted of violating federal narcotic or barbiturate laws;
- Having been convicted of a felony involving moral turpitude;
- Having engaged in immoral conduct that would discredit the dental profession.
Being denied a license because of past misconduct is not an insurmountable obstacle. The Board permits an applicant who has been denied a license or a dental professional whose license has been revoked due to past bad behavior to request a hearing so they can present evidence of reform and rehabilitation. The Lento Law Firm's Professional License Defense Team can help you gather the documents and testimonials required to persuade the Board that you are now fit to practice.
With a Member of the Lento Law Firm's Professional License Defense Team on Your Side, You Can Be Assured That an Experienced Attorney Will Be Providing You With the Strongest Possible Defense.
Call the Lento Law Firm at 888.535.3686 today for a consultation about how we will fight for your dental license in North Carolina. You can also submit your case details online, and a member of our team will reach out as soon as possible.