Dealing with Complaints as a Dental Hygienist

Dental hygienists provide basic and essential dental care to Texas residents daily. In most cases, dental hygienists spend more time with patients than their dentists. As a result, the Texas State Board of Dental Examiners (TSBDE) takes allegations of misconduct by dental hygienists very seriously. Findings of misconduct can lead to a loss of licensure and other severe consequences. Having a dental hygienist license defense attorney on your side can make a significant difference in the outcome of your case.

Investigations of Complaints by the Texas State Board of Dental Examiners

The TSBDE investigates complaints and takes disciplinary action against dental hygienists in the event they violate the rules or laws that govern them. When TSBDE receives a complaint about a dental hygienist, it conducts a preliminary investigation to determine if it has jurisdiction over the content of the complaint and the hygienist who is the subject of the complaint.

TSBDE will dismiss any non-jurisdictional complaints. Likewise, if a complaint is jurisdictional, but there is insufficient evidence to proceed to a full investigation, TSBDE will dismiss the complaint. However, jurisdictional complaints with sufficient information will proceed to a full investigation after review by the Dental Director and/or Director of Investigations.

The investigative staff of TSBDE will interview the involved parties, gather relevant documents, such as patient medical records and billing records, and take any other necessary steps to determine whether a violation of a rule or law has occurred. If the complaint involves an alleged standard of care violation, the Dental Review Panel will review the complaint and decide if there has been a standard of care violation. The Dental Review Panel consists of six dentists, two dental hygienists, and one registered dental assistant serving six-year terms.

Disposition of Violations

Investigators present any violations that they discover during their investigations to the TSBDE Legal Division for review. The Legal Division may dismiss complaints with insufficient evidence to support a violation and impose an administrative penalty for minor violations unrelated to patient care. Other violations may result in formal non-disciplinary or disciplinary action by the Board, which meets quarterly to vote on Remedial Plans and Board Orders.

Non-Disciplinary Action

Tex. Occ. Code § 263.0077 provides that the TSBDE can issue a Remedial Plan to resolve the investigation of a complaint. Since a Remedial Plan is a non-disciplinary action, it may not contain a revocation, suspension, limitation, or restriction on the ability of a dental hygienist to practice or an assessment of an administrative penalty.

Remedial Plans are unavailable as a remedy when a violation involves a patient death, the commission of a felony, or any matter involving inappropriate sexual or financial involvement with a patient. Furthermore, if restriction of the practice of a dental hygienist is an appropriate resolution for the violation, a Remedial Plan is not an option. Finally, a dental hygienist is eligible for a Remedial Plan only if they have not entered a Remedial Plan with the TSBDE in the past five years.

Disciplinary Action

Under Tex. Occ. Code § 263.002(a), TSBDE, after notice and hearing, may take any of the following actions against a dental hygienist who has violated a relevant rule or law:

  • Impose an administrative penalty
  • Issue a reprimand
  • Issue a written warning
  • Suspend a license
  • Place a person whose license has been suspended on probation (probated suspension)
  • Revoke a license

However, a dental hygienist is subject to these sanctions for violating a rule or law that regulates their profession only if a majority of the Board agrees to that sanction under Tex. Occ. Code § 263.002(b).

Potential Sanctions for TSBDE Violations

The TSBDE publishes a Disciplinary Matrix in the Texas Register that provides a guideline to appropriate disciplinary and non-disciplinary sanctions for common violations. The sanctions listed for each violation are only recommendations, so the TSBDE can, but is not required to, follow these guidelines.

22 Tex. Admin. Code § 107.203 provides for aggravating and mitigating factors that the TSBDE can consider in determining the appropriate sanctions for the different violations of rules and laws that govern dental hygienists.

Aggravating Factors

The presence of aggravating factors may cause the TSBDE to impose a more severe or restrictive disciplinary sanction on a dental hygienist:

  • harm to one or more patients;
  • the severity of patient harm;
  • one or more violations that involve more than one patient;
  • economic harm to any individual or entity and the severity of such harm;
  • increased potential for harm to the public;
  • attempted concealment of the act constituting the violation;
  • intentional, premeditated, knowing, or grossly negligent act constituting a violation;
  • prior similar violations;
  • previous disciplinary action by the Board, any government agency, peer review organization, or health care entity;
  • violation of a Board Order; or
  • other relevant circumstances increasing the seriousness of the misconduct.

Mitigating Factors

On the other hand, mitigating factors may cause the TSBDE to impose a less severe or restrictive sanction on a dental hygienist:

  • self-reported and voluntary admission of violation(s);
  • implementation of remedial measures to correct or mitigate harm from the violation(s);
  • acknowledgment of wrongdoing and willingness to cooperate with the Board, as evidenced by the acceptance of an Agreed Order;
  • rehabilitative potential;
  • prior community service and present value to the community;
  • other relevant circumstances reducing the seriousness of the misconduct; or
  • other relevant circumstances lessening responsibility for the misconduct.

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We Will Stand Up for Your Rights Before the Texas State Board of Dental Examiners

You can count on the experienced dental hygienist license defense lawyers at Bertolino LLP, to defend you when you receive notice of disciplinary proceedings against you from the TSBDE. We will investigate the circumstances that led to the disciplinary proceedings and devise the best defense strategy for your case. Together, we will work to clear your name and protect your license and status as a dental hygienist. Call us today at (512) 515-9518 or contact us online.

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