December 7, 2017 6:38 pm
Updated: December 8, 2017 12:10 pm

Alberta dentist at war over words; his ads leave bad taste in mouth of regulators

WATCH ABOVE: An Alberta dentist is speaking out about strict advertising rules he says are handcuffing competition. Kendra Slugoski reports.

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Dr. Michael Zuk, a Red Deer dentist, has been called a troublemaker in his profession. He holds nothing back and doesn’t mince words over his war over words with the Alberta Dental Association & College (ADA&C).

“I can’t imagine anywhere else where dentists are treated so harshly,” Zuk said on Wednesday.


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The general dentist was handed a one-year suspension and fined $175,000 by the ADA&C for a number of code of ethics breaches, including his advertising.

Zuk is appealing that decision to Alberta’s Court of Appeal.

“They were initially recommending a five-year suspension and a $270,000 cost due to advertising complaints from my competitors,” he said.

Zuk called the advertising restrictions heavy-handed and “ridiculous.”

“They come up with weird words we can’t use,” he said, “like we can’t use the word ‘experienced,’ because experienced makes it imply that you’re superior to the other dentist.”

That’s the whole point of advertising said Zuk; to set yourself apart from your competitors.

“Instead of saying ‘free consultation,'” he said, “they want us to say ‘no-cost meet and greet.’ So suddenly that makes it OK?”

LISTEN: Dr. Michael Zuk talks to Danielle Smith about his battle with the Alberta Dental Association & College

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READ MORE: New Alberta dental fee guide recommends 8.5% drop for dozens of procedures

The ADA&C said it encourages dentists to advertise, but they must follow the Health Professions Act and not give patients unreasonable expectations.

“We support and we self-regulate truth in advertising,” said Dr. Randall Croutze, the chief executive officer of the ADA&C.

“We are exactly where we should be. In the balance of providing good information to patients and protecting the dignity of our profession.”

Global News asked Croutze about certain words Zuk said were banned in ads, like “experienced” and “innovative.”

“We take a look at the context that they’re provided in,” Croutze said.

“So to say one word is not used is not generally the truth, it depends upon the context it’s in and basically we want dentists to indicate or to not indicate their superiority because of, for example a technique or piece of equipment.”

Croutze commented on a number of other promotional techniques banned by the ADA&C.

Testimonials

“The problem with testimonials is that they often are emotional, there is a subjective nature to them that is difficult for us to validate or verify.”

Before-and-after pictures (outside of a dental office)

“We feel that before-and-after pictures are a bit of a testimonial and they can provide maybe information that is misleading and it’s not appropriate for each individual. So it may give unreasonable expectations of the treatment outcome. But certainly inside of an office, with a patient in your chair, we feel that before-and-after pictures are an excellent way of demonstrating what the possibilities are. So inside of your office, absolutely use those as an education tool and they’re very valuable in that respect.”

Coupons

“You can offer a discount as long as it’s not a time-limited discount. We don’t want people to be in a situation where, for example, they wait until Black Friday to get the abscess done and the fact of the matter is, it’s a health issue.”

Below is an ad posted inside Dr. Zuk’s Red Deer office. An ad like this, showing before-and-after pictures, would not be allowed to be published outside the office.

Zuk got in trouble for offering mouth-guard discounts to his patients, as well as time-limited deals.

At least three other dentists listed on the ADA&C website had also been sanctioned for unprofessional conduct due to their advertising.

The ADA&C said the majority of cases are resolved through education with its members and only “exceptional” cases are heard before a tribunal.

The Competition Bureau said a balance must be struck between competition and ensuring Albertans have all the information they need to choose a dentist.

In 2016, the government agency released a report looking at advertising restrictions among health-care professions.

“Advertising is a key component for competition,” said Leila Wright, associate deputy commissioner with the Policy, Planning and Advocacy Directorate.

“For competitive markets, you’ll see lower prices, you’ll see increased choice for consumers and you’ll also see increased innovation.”

Wright called on health-care providers to study the outcomes of looser advertising rules.

“Does that actually lower price? Does that actually lower quality? Once we have that information, it will be much easier to understand if the rules need to change.”

Zuk, a general dentist since 1986, said he will continue to challenge the ad regulations which, in the end, he said is lining the pockets of lawyers instead of driving down prices for patients.

“It’s just got way out of hand.”

© 2017 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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