Why is Dentistry Afraid of Transparency?

Terry Fohey, CDT · Apr 11, 2012

Dear LMT:

A number of months ago, I went to a Georgia Work Ready meeting in an attempt to be a good participant in my local government. Georgia Work Ready is a government-funded program that creates programs to improve job training and marketability of Georgia's workforce. I was shocked to see that only three businesses were represented. Due to the low turnout, I had plenty of airtime to voice my concerns in regard to the dental laboratory community.

I explained that many restorations are fabricated outside the U.S., which is taking jobs away from U.S. technicians and about the lack of disclosure and the fact that the patient has no clue as to where his crowns are being made. I don't want to prevent work from being sent offshore but I feel the patient has a right to know. If the consumer is given a choice, I believe that, based on China's dismal track record with numerous manufactured goods and its disrespect for the intellectual property of others, many will choose the American-made product.  

At the conclusion of the meeting, Senator Frank Ginn and I continued our discussion and he later visited my laboratory. He listened to the staff members, who share my concerns, and recognized that we provide a nice work environment, health benefits and what he considers to be a high-tech kind of a business in which people with a vocational education can actually get a good job.

After a couple of months, I received a phone call from Senator Ginn and he shared his intention to propose legislation— SB375—requiring any dental laboratory conducting business in Georgia to disclose to the dentist the material contents and the point of origin of every dental restoration. It would also require the dentist to disclose this information to the patient prior to placing it in his mouth.

I told him I was willing to do anything I could to help. To promote support, I invited my friends in the business to stand behind the legislation. I contacted Bill Thomas, CDT, from Smile Science in Cleveland, GA, who is a member and participant in the NADL and Georgia Dental Lab Association. I also contacted several of my clients who hold influential positions within the Georgia Dental Association (GDA) and other good dentists around the state.

The amount of support among the dentists I contacted was shocking. Many of them agreed that SB375 [disclosure of materials and point of origin] was great legislation and the right thing to do. We collectively began an enormous grassroots effort to gather further proponents, including dentists, labs and patients. The GDA board of trustees, who wrote the proposed legislation, assured me everyone was behind the bill and they were confident the Governor would sign it.

However, when I then spoke with the Executive Director of the GDA I heard a different story. Although she acknowledged the benefits of the bill, she also said association members were Republicans and they believed we don't need more regulations on our businesses. Therefore, she claimed, the GDA would not work against SB375 but it would not work for it.

I went to the Capitol and spoke with the Health and Human Services Subcommittee that was reviewing the bill. I explained that crowns from China and other countries being sold here claim to use the same high quality materials we use at NuCraft yet are being sold for less than we can even purchase those same materials for—never mind our labor costs. For that to be possible, I said, there had to be something dishonest and not transparent in regard to the materials they claim to be using.

But the subcommittee members had zero questions. Based on their lack of interest, I knew the bill would never make it out of the subcommittee. In fact, the bill is officially dead for this year. It can be brought up again next year but would have to be resubmitted by a Senator, rewritten and reassigned a new number.  

In frustration and disbelief, I called all the dentists who had supported the bill and explained that I couldn't understand what happened. I cannot overemphasize how many very fair, honest and good dentists actually tried to fall on the sword for the dental lab profession just to ensure this bill passes!

So, now I wonder: are the politicians scared of transparency? Are dentists? Are dental laboratories?

All I know is that I have not encountered a single patient who doesn't think he has a right to know what is being placed in his mouth. I ran into a friend of mine who is a large vegetable supplier for Publix supermarkets in Georgia. When I told him the story about the legislation, he was in disbelief. He said, "You mean that for every potato I sell, I have to be able to tell the government what field it came from, what truck it rode on, etc. and dentistry can make a restoration and put it in my mouth and never have to tell me where it came from? You have to be kidding me!"

So, why are dentistry and politicians so afraid of a bill from a freshman Senator who recognized a real problem and proposed a solution?

SB375 is simply about disclosure. It does not restrict anyone from importing dentistry. Instead, it just makes us all play by the same rules.

~ Terry Fohey, CDT, Owner NuCraft Dental Arts Bogart, GA