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Kentucky suspends more than 180 dentists, angers health advocates




FRANKFORT

Oral health advocates in Kentucky are fuming over what they call “a bureaucratic nightmare” that led to the temporary suspensions of more than 180 dentists.

The suspensions are especially troublesome in a state that struggles with poor dental health, said Dea Riley, head of the Appalachian Roundtable, an advocacy group for residents of the state’s impoverished mountain region.

“There seems to be very little logic in this maneuver,” said Riley, who was angered that dentists in some rural coal towns had to close their offices until paperwork was processed to restore their licenses. “They need to be allowing these doctors to practice dentistry, not make it more difficult for them.”

Riley said the move by the Kentucky Board of Dentistry wouldn’t have been so irksome if Kentucky didn’t already rank among the worst states in the nation in toothlessness. A study by the Kentucky Institute of Medicine last year found that 37 percent of Kentucky adults were missing at least six teeth.

Despite those dismal statistics, the dental board ordered the suspensions of dentists who missed a Dec. 31 deadline to submit paperwork and pay a $230 fee. Lisa Turner, the dental board’s interim executive director, said 187 practicing dentists were affected. All have since returned to work.

Turner said the problem arose when the dental board changed the way it notified dentists about the need to renew their licenses.

In past years, letters of reminder were mailed to the state’s more than 2,300 practicing dentists to remind them that their licenses were set to expire on Dec. 31. Last year, the dental board simply printed a notice in its fall newsletter.

“Apparently a large percentage failed to read the newsletter,” Turner said.

Because so many dentists didn’t renew their licenses, the dental board decided to send a postcard reminder in December. It, too, went unheeded, she said.

Turner said the problem coincided with a push by the dental board for all dentists to renew their licenses online.

Dr. Scott Browning, a dentist in Vicco in rural eastern Kentucky, said he was surprised to learn in January that his license had been suspended because of the communications breakdown. He said he initially learned about his suspension when he called an oxygen supplier to place an order. He then called the dental board to verify what the supplier had told him.

“They should have a way of contacting the dentists,” Browning said. “All it would have taken was a phone call.”

Browning had to close his office for a week, postponing all appointments that he could, while frantically trying to get patients suffering from tooth pain into nearby dental clinics.

“That is what was really making me angry,” he said. “I couldn’t help my people.”

Riley said it’s little wonder that Kentucky is the butt of jokes about its poor dental health when the state suspends the men and women responsible for caring for teeth.

“This affects our national reputation,” she said.


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