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Op Ed: Sponsor transparency (conflict of interest?) and the AADB meeting

March 10, 2021
The recent meeting for the American Association of Dental Boards had some interesting sponsors and organizations represented. This led to "lively debate" throughout the meeting.

Editor’s note: Michael W. Davis, DDS, assists as an expert witness in dental fraud and legal cases. He currently chairs the Santa Fe District Dental Society Peer Review Committee. Here is his take on “lively” events at the recent American Association of Dental Boards (AADB) meeting.

The American Association of Dental Boards held their midyear meeting Feb 26–28. The organization’s mission statement is, “To serve as a resource by providing a national forum for exchange, development, and dissemination of information to assist dental regulatory boards with their obligation to protect the public.”

The AADB website states, As the national face of state dental boards, we influence the licenses of over half a million oral health practitioners through the regulation of dentists, dental therapists, hygienists, and assistants by our governing members.”

Financing sources for the AADB are through online donations, an online store and memberships, and sponsorships at their meetings. The 2021 conference’s largest sponsor was SmileDirectClub, and speaking at the conference was SmileDirectClub legal counsel, Susan Greenspon Rammelt.

Interestingly, there has been a history of legal discord between SmileDirectClub and a number of state dental boards, and this led to many lively debates at the meeting.

Another leading sponsor for the AADB was the Association of Dental Support Organizations (ADSO), the largest lobbyist group for the DSO industry. Nationally, DSOs and their scope of operation has been a frequent topic within dental state boards. Conflicts have arisen.

The American Teledentistry Association (ATDA), a 501(c)6 non-profit business entity that represents the principal advocate for the teledentistry industry, was yet another fiscal backer. In a current lawsuit, the ATDA is in support of a plaintiff versus the Texas State Board of Dental Examiners. Read more about the lawsuit here. The ATDA called “puffery” on claims made by the American Association of Orthodontics related to teledentistry. Read more about that here.

A number of state dental boards are actively addressing the scope of practice related to teledentistry, and as demonstrated at the AADB meeting, debates can be lively.

The importance of transparency

It is critical for regulatory bodies to avert even the appearance of any conflict of interest. Funding for state oversight agencies must be adequate to circumvent possible attempts at regulatory capture by industries overseen by authorities acting for the public welfare.

At the same time, responsible oversight must include an exposure and awareness to all positions of an argument. Every voice at the table must be given a fair hearing.

Most members on state dental boards serve for minimal or no financial compensation. Attorneys representing dental regulatory agencies are paid fairly modestly, as state employees. All are charged with a duty of service in the public interest.

This may be in stark contrast to salaries, stock options, and benefits for those representing corporate entities, which may be in conflict with a dental board. These parties generally have a primary obligation to represent the interests of their shareholders and boards of directors.

Transparency is essential for public trust. Ethically, the AADB provided public disclosures on their meeting’s sponsors. This is to be lauded. One must also maintain vigilance to avoid any potential undue influence of stated sponsors.

Michael W. Davis, DDS, practices general dentistry in Santa Fe, New Mexico. He assists as an expert witness in dental fraud and malpractice legal cases. He currently chairs the Santa Fe District Dental Society Peer Review Committee and serves as a state dental association member to its house of delegates. He writes and lectures extensively on related matters. He can be reached at [email protected] or smilesofsantafe.com.
About the Author

Michael Davis, DDS

Michael W. Davis, DDS, maintains a general dentistry practice in Santa Fe, New Mexico. He chairs his district dental society peer-review committee and is involved in state dental association issues. He is also active with consultation and expert witness work for a variety of attorneys. Dr. Davis may be reached at [email protected] or on his website, SmilesofSantaFe.com.

Bio updated July 11, 2017