In the late 1970s, a group of recovering Minnesota dentists formed one of the first
dentist support groups in the country, Dentists Concerned for Dentists (DCD).
DCD is still in existence today, dealing primarily with alcohol and drug
addiction. This group not only functions as a support group and resource, but
also serves to provide interventions for dentists in need of help.
DCD is mainly comprised of trained volunteer dentists who
supply information and resources for people in the dental community. These
volunteers receive phone calls from friends and families of addicted dentists
or even dentists themselves who are having problems. DCD gathers the
information and then decides what level of help and support is needed.
Oftentimes DCD will conduct an intervention, which helps the person gain access
to treatment and recovery.
As one of the first programs in the country, DCD served as a
model for other states to follow. The primary goal of DCD is to assist dentists
in getting help and to continue to maintain their practice of dentistry without
receiving sanctions from the State Board of Dentistry (BOD).
Legal History and Ramifications
In 1994, the state legislature mandated that a monitoring
program be formed to allow health care professionals to get help without being
reported to their state regulatory boards. The Health Professional Services
Program (HPSP) was then estalished. HPSP serves not only dentists, physicians,
and nurses, but chiropractors, veterinarians, emergency medical technicians,
nursing home workers, psychologists, and individuals governed by any other
state licensing board that regulates health care providers.
The funding for HPSP is provided by the various state
licensing boards. The Minnesota State Board of Dentistry pays for the services
provided to licensed dentists, registered hygienists, and dental assistants.
It has always been felt that health care providers would not
seek help and care for their problems because they feared repercussions from
their Boards. HPSP allows providers to get help and be monitored for a period
of time after treatment. If the individuals successfully follow
recommendations, they would not be reported to the board; thus their condition
would remain confidential and they would not have to face sanctions on their
HPSP conducts intake evaluations, refers for appropriate
care, and then follows individuals for anywhere from one to three years as a
part of their monitoring process. People are not only seen for alcohol and
chemical abuse but for any physically or mentally debilitating condition. The
monitoring program generally has worksite monitoring such as a co-worker or a
psychologist who sees the person on a regular basis and then provides quarterly
reports to the HPSP. Individuals may also be subject to random drug screenings,
which are also a significant part of the monitoring process. If the person
continues to do well in recovery and has completed the progam, his or her
monitoring is discontinued. If the person fails to follow monitoring
requirements, he or she then can be reported to the appropriate board. People
either self-report to HPSP or they can be referred from another individual.
In early 2002, the State Board of Dentistry changed the
Dental Practice Act to require mandatory reporting of impaired practitioners.
This change correlated more to the language that was included in most other
health care Provider Acts. What this meant was that if any licensed or registered
dental professionals were aware of another licensed or registered professional
practicing while impaired either physically, mentally, or chemically, they are
required by the Dental Practice Act to report this person to the Board of
Dentistry or they could face sanctions against their own licenses. This was
brought about to provide leverage and consequences for people who were
violating the Dental Practice Act.
It is not uncommon to know of other practitioners who have
problems with drugs and alcohol but fail to act because we don’t want to get
involved or be the person to have to come down on a friend or colleague. This
change in the Dental Practice Act gave the practitioners no choice:
They had to act or they would face sanctions on their own licenses.
It was written into this law that reporting to the HPSP
would fulfill the requirements for mandatory reporting to the BOD. Since the
inception of the Mandatory Reporting Act, dentistry’s participation in the HPSP
has dramatically increased.
Available Resources for Help
Although DCD deals mostly with drug and alcohol problems,
there have also been numerous calls on other issues facing dentists. Among them
can be depression, family issues, stress management, financial problems,
divorce, and suicide, to name just a few. While DCD had been handling and
referring these calls, it became apparent that many of these calls required
more immediate response from better qualified professionals.
At about this time, the American Dental Association was
recommending that the Minnesota Dental Association create more comprehensive
programs for the wellness of its dental community. Four years ago, the MDA
formed the Minnesota Dentists Wellness Program and contracted with The Sand
Creek Group, which is a nationally known assistance program headquartered in Stillwater, Minnesota.
Sand Creek provides 24-hour crisis phone answering and also serves as a
referral contact for dentists and their immediate family members. Help is paid
for by the MDA.
Sand Creek responds to a lot of the critical issues outside
of drug and alcohol problems that are happening in dentistry. Sand Creek also
takes calls for drug and alcohol and will refer them to DCD or, in the case of
multiple diagnoses, they will coordinate health care for these individuals.
As you see, the MDA and HPSP provide a wide variety of
services and help for dentists. People needing to contact HPSP can call (651)
643-2120. If you have any questions, please call the MDA office at (651)
646-7454 for help or referral.
is a general dentist in private practice in Saint Paul, Minnesota.
He is a member of both Dentists Concerned for Dentists and the Wellness
Subcommittee of the Minnesota Dental Association Membership Committee.
**"When the Walls Come Tumbling Down: A Pathway
to Addiction", Northwest Dentistry, November-December 2005, and January-February 2006.