Dentists in Maryland can advertise in flashing neon lights or with signs shaped like a huge tooth or in almost any other way they choose, the state attorney general ruled yesterday.
As long as the ads are not false or misleading, they cannot be blocked by the state Board of Dental Examiners on grounds that it is unprofessional. Attorney General Francis B. Burch said in a formal opinion.
Burch's holding was the latest in a series of developments allowing professionals to advertise since the Supreme Court ruled in June that lawyers had that right.
For years, professionals have banned advertising, partly on grounds it would be undignified and that the reputation of an entire profession could become tainted with commercialism. From time to time, however, critics have suggested that a desire to maintain high fees could also be involved.
Burch's ruling involved a Silver Spring dentist who has been running ads in The Washington Post and The Washington Star offering dentures at $129 - less than half the usual price - with a money-back guarantee if they prove unsatisfactory.
The Board of Dental Examiners had asked Burch if it had authority to move against the dentist, Dr. Daniel Lee Maloof, under a Maryland statute that barred dentists from advertising prices and services.
In light of the Supreme Court ruling on lawyer advertising, Burch said that in his opinion the Maryland statute is unconstitutional. The Board of Dental Examiners does retain some regulatory power over advertising by dentists, he added.
"I'm kind of glad to see it," said Maloof. "If you want to work harder and charge a little less money, which is what I'm doing, this lets you let people know about it. You can give people a choice. Before you had to wait five years for the word to spread around."
While yesterday's opinion concened itself specifically with dentists, the same broad principles would apply to other professions, a spokesman for the attorney general's office said.
While the Board of Dental Examiners lacks authority to enforce an outright prohibition on dental advertising, it does have the power to regulate false or deceptive advertising, according to Burch's opinion.
The Board also has the power to prohibit advertising by unlicensed dentists, or for "painless" dentistry and it can regulate advertisements that proclaim superior dental work, Burch said.
Burch cannot regulate the size of ads, prohibit telephone advertisements or stop ads that offer free dental services.
It would be legal, a Burch spokesman said for a dentist to run ads offering free dental examinations and then charge for any corrective work, ads, prohibit telephone advertisements lessionals lead to lower prices for their services," Burch said. "Today's opinion could very well bring such benefits, in any event, responsible price, advertising by professionals clearly increases the flow of vital information to the public."
The Maryland ruling on dental advertising came just two weeks after Virgina Attorney General Anthony Troy issued similar opinion, holding that Virginia dentists have a right to advertise as long as the ads are truthful.
Since the Supreme Court's June decision permitting lawyers to advertise, there has been movement in a number of areas to permit such professionals as doctors, architects and pharmacists to advertise.
The Federal Trade Commission is attempting to remove a ban against advertising by doctors imposed by the American Medical Association. Bar associations in a number of states are grappling with regulations to govern advertising by lawyers.
Under the Supreme Court decision, lawyers have the right to advertise, but states have the right to regulate the manner of advertising. Only two Mississippi and Missouri, have issued rules on lawyer advertising and in both cases they are more restrictive than those suggested by the American Bar Association. The Justice Department has said the ABA suggestions fail to meet Supreme Court guidelines.
In Maryland, the Court of Appeals is considering rules for lawyers adtising, including a proposal that would bar radio and television advertising. There is no current restriction on radio or television adverting for dentists in Maryland.