Rigorous rules, regulations, and laws govern the practice of dentists, dental hygienists, and dental assistants in the state of Texas. These high standards are necessary to protect patients and protect the rights of dental professionals. However, when you receive a complaint about the standard of care you have provided a patient, you must take it seriously. Without taking immediate aggressive action and building a solid defense, you risk losing your career and your reputation along with your dental license. A dental license defense lawyer can help if you are in this situation. 

The Role of the Texas State Board of Dental Examiners

The Texas State Board of Dental Examiners (TSBDE) provides enforcement, licensing, peer assistance, and related information services to licensees and their patients. Dentists, dental hygienists, and dental assistants must obtain licenses through TSBDE before working in these professions. They also must renew their licenses periodically. Finally, TSBDE handles complaints about dental professionals and takes disciplinary action when patients and other members of the public complain. 

TSBDE Complaint Processing and Procedures

Anyone can submit a complaint to TSBDE in writing. TSBDE will initially review each complaint to determine whether it has jurisdiction over the allegation and the dental professional who is the subject of the complaint. After the initial review, TSBDE staff assigns the complaints to four different outcomes: 

  • Dismissal: The complaint has insufficient information to determine jurisdiction or the validity of the allegation.
  • Non-Jurisdictional: Dismissal: The complaint is outside TSBDE jurisdiction.
  • Jurisdictional: Not Filed: The complaint falls within TSBDE jurisdiction but lacks sufficient information to proceed to a full investigation. 
  • Jurisdictional: Filed: The complaint falls within TSBDE jurisdiction and has sufficient information to proceed to a full investigation. The Dental Director and/or Director of Investigations then determines the proper course of investigations. 

Full Investigation

During the full investigation phase, the TSBDE staff will gather additional evidence concerning the subject of the complaint, such as patient records, billing records, and any other relevant documentation. TSBDE can also conduct interviews of any parties involved and generally try to verify whether the alleged violations of rules or laws occurred. 

If the allegation involves patient care, the case goes to the Dental Review Panel. That panel determines whether a standard of care violation has occurred. All findings of violations by TSBDE and/or the Dental Review Panel go to the TSBDE Legal Division to determine if the evidence is sufficient to support disciplinary action. 

Disposition of Violations

The TSBDE Legal Division has various options to handle violations of rules and regulations by license holders. For example, if there is insufficient evidence of a violation of the applicable rules or regulations, the Legal Division can dismiss the complaint. If the violation is minor and not related to patient care, the Legal Division may choose to simply assess an administrative penalty. 

If the TSBDE Legal Division decides to move forward with formal disciplinary action, it can try to reach an agreement with the license holder. If negotiations fail, the complaint goes to the State Office of Administrative Hearings (SOAH) for an administrative hearing before an administrative law judge (ALJ). After a hearing, the ALJ issues a recommended order. 

An agreed order or remedial plan and an order after a contested administrative hearing must go to the TSBDE for a vote. The TSBDE meets quarterly and formalizes disciplinary action through a Board Order. Licensees who disagree with the ALJ decision ratified by TSBDE can appeal the order to the court. 

Potential Disposition of TSBDE Complaints 

Under Tex. Occ. Code § 263.0077, the TSBDE has the authority to issue remedial plans to resolve complaints. These remedial plans are non-disciplinary actions and typically require license holders to make certain changes or do specific tasks to comply with their terms. The TSBDE also charges a $500 fee to implement a remedial plan. 

Under Tex. Occ. Code § 263.002(a), the TSBDE has the authority to take the following actions concerning the license of a dental professional:

  • Issue a warning letter
  • Issue a reprimand
  • Impose a fine
  • Impose an administrative penalty
  • Suspend a license for days or years
  • Probate the suspension of a license and place conditions on it
  • Revoke a license

The TSBDE Compliance Division monitors compliance with both Remedial Plans and disciplinary sanctions. 

The TSBDE also publishes a Disciplinary Matrix that specifies many of the penalties individuals can potentially face for violations of different rules and regulations. For instance, the schedule of administrative fines in the matrix generally provides that the fine for a first offense is less than $3,000. A second offense can result in a fine of less than $4,000, and a third offense carries the potential for a fine of less than $5,000. Additionally, the matrix lists a base penalty amount for specific violations. Individuals can receive more than the base penalty for aggravating circumstances and multiple violations. 

Finally, the matrix lists potential sanctions for different types of common violations. For example, suppose a licensee violates the standard of care concerning a patient. In that case, the violation may be a first, second, or third-tier violation, based on the nature of the offense and any aggravating and mitigating factors. A first-tier violation could result in a remedial plan, an administrative penalty, a warning, or a reprimand. On the opposite end of the spectrum, a third-tier violation could result in an enforced suspension until specific remedial measures are taken, followed by a probated suspension, denial or revocation of license, request for voluntary surrender of license, or consideration of a temporary emergency suspension of license. 

Don’t Face a Complaint Before the Board of Dental Examiners Without Legal Representation 

A single complaint can endanger your license and ruin your reputation. After you have worked so hard to finish your education and build your practice, this is not a risk that you can take lightly. As a result, having an experienced professional license defense attorney can be essential to a positive outcome in your case. You can reach the offices of Bertolino, LLP by calling (512) 515-9518 today or filling out our contact form online.

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