Canadian Dentists Sue Over Advertising Limits

A group of dentists in Alberta says the province's regulator has put forth such "overbroad" advertising restrictions that dentists cannot sufficiently promote their practices and services.

American dentists may agonize over crafting the perfect wording for their advertisements and websites, but in one Canadian province dentists have another copy editor to worry about: An allegedly overzealous regulator.

Dentists in Alberta have filed a class action lawsuit against the Alberta Dental Association and College, which regulates the industry, charging that the agency’s “overbroad” advertising guidelines and “capricious” enforcement make it impossible for dentists to fairly advertise their expertise and credentials.

For instance, the guidelines state that dentists may list university-conferred credentials, such as DDS or DMD degrees. However, they can’t list awards, participation in other training or programs, or other bona fides.

They also can’t make subjective claims, such as saying that their work or their equipment is better than the work or equipment of other dentists.

“The overall implementation and enforcement strategy adopted by the ADAC, including an overbroad interpretation and unduly aggressive application of the advertising restrictions insofar as they relate to information on websites, has created a climate of intimidation and bullying,” the lawsuit alleges.

One of the dentists who filed the lawsuit, Lawrence Stanleigh, was told to remove several sections of content from his practice’s website, including references to his military service, before-and-after patient photos, and references to charitable work he’s performed.

Stanleigh also says ADAC made clear it wouldn’t dismiss unrelated malpractice allegations made against him until he made the website changes. He says the work needed to make the changes and deal with ADAC cost him about $10,000.

Another dentist, Dr. Michael Yar Zuk faced regulatory backlash for, among other things, offering coupons and writing a book that criticized the cosmetic dentistry industry. ADAC allegedly ordered him to cease publication of the book.

The dentists say they are guaranteed freedom of expression, and that freedom is being unfairly constricted by the advertising red tape.

In a statement to the Calgary Sun, ADAC denied the allegations and said they will vigorously defend the charges in court.

The plaintiffs are seeking unspecified monetary damages.