California dentists and hygienists may have their professional licenses suspended or revoked if they are convicted of certain crimes that are “substantially related” to the qualifications and duties of a dentist.
A few examples include convictions for crimes involving
- theft, or
The Dental Board of California may also disqualify aspiring dentists and hygienists from getting licenses for either:
- having a criminal conviction, within seven years from the date of their license application, which was substantially related to dentistry,
- having a past criminal conviction, from any time, that is for a serious offense (such as murder, rape, or grand theft), or
- having a criminal conviction from any time for a sex offense that requires Tier II or Tier III sex offender registration.
Note that before taking disciplinary action against a dentist for a criminal conviction, the Board must allow the convicted dentist to attend an administrative hearing.
The hearing is essentially a mini-trial held before an administrative law judge. The
- Board presents evidence showing why the judge should impose discipline, and
- the convicted dentist then presents evidence on his/her behalf.
Discipline is imposed if the judge finds, by clear and convincing evidence, that discipline is appropriate. This burden of proof is a lower standard than the “by a reasonable doubt” burden used in California criminal trials.
A dentist can always appeal the Board’s decision to suspend or revoke a license.
Our California criminal defense attorneys will highlight the following in this article:
- 1. Who regulates dental professionals in California?
- 2. Does a criminal charge lead to disciplinary action?
- 3. What kinds of criminal convictions trigger Board discipline?
- 4. Does evidence of rehabilitation help?
- 5. What happens after the Board learns of a conviction?
- 6. What happens at a formal hearing?
- 7. Can a dentist appeal the Board’s decision to suspend or revoke a dental license?
- 8. Can I become a dentist with a criminal history?
1. Who regulates dental professionals in California?
The Dental Board of California regulates
- hygienists, and
- registered dental assistants.
The Dental Board is a governmental agency within the California Department of Consumer Affairs.
The Board’s mission is to protect dental patients in accordance with the Dental Practice Act.1
The Board can discipline a licensee by:
- reprimanding the licensee,
- placing the licensee on probation, or
- suspending or revoking his or her dental license if conclusive evidence of unprofessional conduct, incompetence, gross negligence, and repeated acts of negligence.2
2. Does a criminal charge lead to disciplinary action?
No. A criminal charge alone does not result in the Board investigating dental care providers or taking disciplinary action.
Rather, the Board will initiate action against a dentist or hygienist if he/she is convicted of a crime.
Note that convictions include both felony and misdemeanor convictions that happen by way of:
- guilty pleas and verdicts (after judgment has been entered), and
- “no contest” pleas (after judgment has been entered).
The Dental Board can take disciplinary action even if a dentist successfully completed a court-ordered diversion program.4
A conviction becomes actionable when:
- the time for appeal has elapsed,
- the judgment has been affirmed on appeal, or
- an order granting probation is made suspending the imposition of sentence.
Keep in mind that dentists have no concrete mandate to provide unsolicited ongoing arrest or conviction information to the Board, as is the case with doctors.5
However, the Board has a number of ways of finding out about concealed convictions. For example, court clerks must send the Dental Board copies of convictions and other criminal information.6
The Board also has an in-house Enforcement Unit staffed by sworn law enforcement officers who investigate complaints. They could discover a concealed conviction in the course of an investigation.
Note, too, that deceit by a dentist is, in and of itself, a basis for discipline.
3. What kinds of criminal convictions trigger Board discipline?
Criminal convictions that are “substantially related” to the
- functions, or
- duties of a dentist or dental assistant can trigger discipline.7
This includes convictions for any crime or act:
“if to a substantial degree it evidences present or potential unfitness of a licensee to perform the functions authorized by his license in a manner consistent with the public health, safety, or welfare.”8
The following are some examples of crimes that the Board has considered substantially related to dentistry:
- improper rebating,9
- receiving stolen property,10
- possession of a forged instrument,11
- crimes involving drugs, alcohol, or substance abuse,13
- possession of controlled substances,14
- insurance fraud, including prescription fraud,15
- driving under the influence (DUI),16
- exhibiting a deadly weapon,17 and
- lewd act on a child.18
4. Does evidence of rehabilitation help?
Yes. In determining whether and how to discipline a licensed dentist, the Board is required to consider whether the licensee has been rehabilitated from his or her criminal activity.19
In making this determination, the Board will consider:
- the severity of the offense,
- the total criminal record,
- the time that has elapsed since the offense,
- the licensee’s compliance with probation or parole terms,
- evidence of expungement, and
- other evidence of rehabilitation.20
“Other evidence of rehabilitation” can include:
- remedial education,
- letters of reference, and
- 12-step participation.
The goal is for a convicted dentist to show the Dental Board that he/she has sincerely come to terms with the crime convicted of, and is committed to moving forward in a positive way.
5. What happens after the Board learns of a conviction?
Once the Board learns of a conviction, it assigns the matter to an investigator. The investigator interviews the convicted dentist and reviews the police and court records related to the conviction.
If the investigator finds evidence suggesting that discipline is appropriate, the Board serves a formal “Accusation” on the convicted dentist. The Accusation serves as notice that the Dental Board is considering suspending or revoking the dentist’s license.21
In some cases, once the Board serves an Accusation, it can enter into a Stipulated Agreement with the dentist and the California Attorney General’s Office. A Stipulated Agreement serves as a settlement agreement where all parties agree to settle the case subject to certain terms and conditions.
If a settlement is not reached, the case proceeds to a formal hearing.
6. What happens at a formal hearing?
Formal hearings are administrative hearings conducted before an administrative law judge (ALJ) and are held at the Office of Administrative Hearings (OAH).
The hearings are basically minitrials. A lawyer from the Attorney General’s Office makes the case for the Board as to:
- why discipline is appropriate, and
- what type of discipline the judge should impose.
The convicted dentist or hygienist then presents testimony and evidence in his/her defense. This evidence includes any evidence of rehabilitation.
The ALJ will issue a Written Proposed Decision typically within 30 days after the hearing. The decision sets forth the ALJ’s recommendation as to disciplinary actions. The Board can either adopt it, modify it, or reject it entirely.
If the Dental Board rejects a decision, it sets forth whatever disciplinary action it deems appropriate.
7. Can a dentist appeal the Board’s decision to suspend or revoke a dental license?
Yes. A dentist can appeal a license revocation or suspension. The appeal is heard by a California Superior Court, which reviews all of the evidence that was presented in the administrative hearing.
A dentist must file an appeal within 30 days of the effective date of the Board’s final decision.
If a dentist loses on appeal, he/she can try to petition the Board for the reinstatement of his/her license.
8. Can I become a dentist with a criminal history?
Maybe. The issue depends on the type of offense an applicant was convicted of and when the conviction occurred.
The Dental Board of California may deny people from getting their dental or hygienist license if they have been convicted in the past seven years of a crime substantially related to the qualifications, functions, or duties of dentistry. The term “substantially related” carries the same meaning as discussed above.
In addition, the Dental Board may deny people from getting their dental or hygienist license if they have a criminal conviction, no matter how old, for either:
- an offense for which the applicant has to register as a Tier II or Tier III sex offender, or
- a serious offense, as defined in Section 1192.7 of the Penal Code.
Examples of “serious crimes” under PC 1192.7 include:
The Dental Board does permit rejected applicants to appeal if their denial was based on having a criminal history.23
- See California Business and Professions Code Section 1600 et seq. See also California Code of Regulations Title 17, Division 10 (Dental Board of California).
- California Business and Professions Code Section 1670.
- California Business and Professions Code Section 1670.1.
- California Business and Professions Code Section 492.
- See, for example, California Business and Professions Code 802.1.
- California Business and Professions Code Section 803.
- California Business and Professions Code Section 1670.1.
- California Code of Regulations, Title 16, 1019.
- Solak v. Dental Board of California, Cal.Ct App. (2010).
- Dental Board of California, Enforcement Unit Hot Sheet (2009), In the matter of the Accusation Against Bertha Arroyo (RDA) (2009).
- See same, In the matter of the Statement of Issues Against Jane Ann Carlson (RDA applicant), Case No. DBC 2008-43 (2009).
- See same, In the Matter of the Statement of Issues Against Shalaya Finley (RDA applicant), Case No. DBC 2008-109 (2009).
- California Business and Professions Code Section 1681.
- Dental Board of California, Enforcement Unit Hot Sheet (2009), In the matter of the Accusation Against Jattie Endfinger (RDA), Case No. DBC 2008-82.
- In the Matter of the Statement of Issues Against Shalaya Finley, supra.
- In the Matter of the Accusation Against Jattie Endfinger, supra. See also Griffiths v. Superior Court of Los Angeles, 96 Cal.App.4th 757 (2002).
- Dental Board of California, Enforcement Unit Hot Sheet (2009), In the Matter of the Accusation Against Lilian Morales-Comparini (RDA), Case No. DBC 2008-11.
- In the Matter of the Accusation Against Scott Henning (DDS), Case No. 01-2008-2825 (2009).
- California Business and Professions Code Section 482.
- California Code of Regulations, Title 16, 1020.
- See California Government Code Section 11503.
- California Penal Code 1192.7 PC.
- California Business and Professions Code Section 480. Assembly Bill 2138.