Enforcement and Discipline
The Board operates an Enforcement Program to enforce the Dental Practice Act (DPA) and protect California consumers. Among other duties, the Program:
- Responds to complaints.
- Conducts inspections of dental offices.
- Monitors licensees placed on probation for violations of the DPA.
- Investigates reported administrative and criminal violations.
- Refers serious, substantiated cases for administrative disciplinary proceedings or prosecution. If an investigation finds repeated acts of negligence, gross negligence, incompetence, or unprofessional conduct, a dentist’s license may be revoked per Business and Professions Code (BPC) section 1670.
To see the administrative disciplinary actions most recently taken, visit the Board’s Enforcement Actions (Hot Sheets) webpage. To view prior administrative disciplinary actions, look up a licensee on DCA’s License Search web page.
The Board's Enforcement Program consists of five units.
Complaint and Compliance Unit (CCU)
Over the five fiscal years preceding the Board’s most recent sunset review, the CCU received an average of 3,776 complaints per year. Complaints are received by web portal, physical mail, email, and telephone. A complaint may be filed by anyone who believes that a licensee of the Board has engaged in illegal activities in violation of the DPA. (BPC § 1680.) Complaints may come from consumers, dental practitioners, insurance companies, and law enforcement. Complaints about quality of care and unlicensed activity are common and under the jurisdiction of the Board. Complaints about fee and billing disputes or general business practices are outside Board jurisdiction. These and other non-jurisdictional complaints are referred to other agencies or organizations that may be more able to assist the complainant.
Among other duties, the CCU collects dental records related to a complaint, obtains the opinion of a dental consultant to determine if a violation of the DPA occurred, closes unsubstantiated cases, and forwards substantiated cases to the Investigation Unit (see below). Forwarded cases tend to involve criminal activity, serious injury to or death of a patient, unlicensed practice, impaired practitioners, sexual misconduct, or other serious violations.
The Inspections/Probation Section includes the Inspection Program and the Probation Unit. Among other duties, the Inspection Program responds to conditions affecting the health, safety, and welfare of the dental consumer and enforces Minimum Standards for Infection Control. (BCP § 1611.5; California Code of Regulations, title 16 (16 CCR), § 1005.) In response to a complaint, the Board may inspect the premises of any dentist. If the dentist refuses the inspection, their license may be suspended or revoked. (BPC § 1670.) Inspectors may issue a written warning (Notice to Correct), issue a citation, or refer a licensee to the Office of the Attorney General for discipline.
The Probation Unit monitors licensees placed on probation after an Accusation is filed against them. (BPC § 1671.) The Probation Unit verifies that probationers are complying with the terms and conditions of their probation. Probationers who violate their probation may have their license revoked to protect the public.
Investigation Unit: Sworn Investigators
The Investigation Unit is a highly trained team of investigators who are sworn peace officers. This unit provides law enforcement investigative activities and develops information for criminal or administrative filings. Among other things, sworn investigators:
- Gather facts, records, and evidence.
- Interview witnesses.
- Evaluate and send reports to experts for review.
- Make arrests.
- Serve search warrants.
- Issue administrative citations.
- Refer cases to the Office of the Attorney General or a District Attorney.
Cases handled by the Investigation Unit can be closed if no violation is found. If a violation is found, a criminal filing is requested. If a case is transmitted to the Office of the Attorney General, the outcome can be a public reprimand, probation (see above), or revocation or surrender of a license.
Investigation Analysis Unit (IAU)
The IAU is a highly trained team of civilian investigators. The IAU investigates general unprofessional conduct or general negligence/incompetence resulting in no injury or minor patient harm, in addition to appeals for denials of licenses/permits.
Discipline Coordination Unit (DCU)
The DCU transmits investigative cases that require formal disciplinary action to the Office of the Attorney General. The DCU acts as a liaison between the Executive Officer (EO) of the Board and the Office of the Attorney General. The DCU handles three types of initial administrative actions:
- An Accusation is prepared if the Board intends to discipline a licensee.
- A Statement of Issues (SOI) is filed if an applicant is denied licensure and appeals the denial.
- A Petition to Revoke Probation (PTR) is filed if a licensee is on probation and violates the terms of the probation. A PTR can be filed alongside an Accusation because conduct that violates probation is often conduct that warrants discipline of a licensee.
After a case is referred to the Office of the Attorney General, the case can result in three possible decisions:
- Stipulated Settlement with the licensee, which can include probation, public reproval, or surrender of their license. (BPC § 1673.)
- Proposed Decision by an Administrative Law Judge, if the case goes to a hearing.
- Default Decision, if the applicant or licensee fails to file a Notice of Defense in time. (Government Code § 11520.)
To contact the Complaint and Compliance Unit, email DentalBoardComplaints@dca.ca.gov or telephone (916) 263-2300.
Accusation: A formal, written statement of charges, which may lead to a settlement or to a hearing before an administrative law judge. (Government Code § 11503.)
Administrative Citation: A penalty used in cases in which physical harm to a patient is not found, but the quality of care provided is substandard. The citation may include an order to correct the violations and an administrative fine. (BPC § 125.9.)
Administrative Law Judge: A judge on the staff of the Office of Administrative Hearings. The judge hears administrative disputes between a state agency and an individual or business. (Government Code § 11502.)
Complaint: A communication alleging illegal activity violating the Dental Practice Act.
Dental Practice Act: The set of laws in the California Business and Professions Code that governs dental professionals, including dentists, dental assistants, and dental hygienists. (BPC §§ 1600 et seq.)
Fraud (violation): Intentional acts of misrepresentation, misleading advertising, substitution of goods or services, fraudulent billing, or unfair business practices.
Unprofessional Conduct (violation): Serious violations of the Dental Practice Act or unethical business practices, such as client abandonment, failure to release or return records, or breach of confidentiality. (BPC § 1680.)
Negligence/Incompetence (violation): Inattention to one's duty, malpractice, a departure from the professional standards of practice, quality of care issues, inadequate skills, or lack of knowledge.
Gross negligence (violation): Extreme inattention to one's duty, malpractice, departure from the professional standards of practice, quality of care issues, inadequate skills, or lack of knowledge.
Health and safety (violation): Improper use of a toxic or hazardous substance, prescription abuse, sanitation deficiencies, and sale of dangerous substances or products.
Minimum Standards for Infection Control: Standards that prevent infections in a dental office and ensure a safe and sanitary experience for dental patients. These include hand hygiene; use of gloves, gown, mask, eye protection, or face shield; and safe handling of sharps. (16 CCR, § 1005(a)(1).)
Investigation (Informal): Complaints investigated by a non-sworn Board staff member to determine if a violation of the law has occurred.
Investigation (Formal): Complaints referred to a sworn investigator to determine if one or more violations of the law have occurred.
Revoked: The invalidation of an individual's license to practice a profession as a result of an administrative or disciplinary action.
Standard of Care: The level of care that a reasonably prudent dentist would exercise in a given set of circumstances. After a complaint is received, it may be evaluated by an expert consultant to determine whether the dental treatment was below the standard of care.
Statement of Issues (SOI): A written statement specifying the statutes and rules that an applicant must comply with. At an administrative hearing, the applicant must produce proof that they have complied. (Government Code § 11504.)
Stipulated Settlement: An agreement reached between the Board and a licensee after an Accusation is filed against the licensee.
Suspension: A decision resulting from a disciplinary action which temporarily discontinues or withdraws the licensee’s right to practice.
Sworn Investigators: California Peace Officers who have the power of arrest for criminal offenses. (Penal Code § 830.3.)
Terms and Conditions of Probation: A probationer may have to take a course, undergo a psychological evaluation, get therapy, perform community service, abstain from alcohol, etc.
Surrender: The licensee turns in their license.
Public Letter of Reprimand: A reprimand of a licensee that is a matter of public record for conduct in violation of the law.