Alone in a meeting room, trustees of the Alabama Dental Association complained about Sarrell Dental Center, a nonprofit corporation that treats thousands of needy children on Medicaid.
In a rambling exchange, leaders of the 1,800-member professional organization said they were concerned about Sarrell's quality of care, and they lamented that for-profit dentists face tough business demands. Something needed to be done, they agreed.
The comments - made public after Sarrell Dental obtained a transcript of the session - helped blow the lid off a simmering dispute between the nonprofit chain of clinics and Alabama's traditional dentists. Sarrell Dental has since filed a slander lawsuit against one of the board members, and the state's only dental school this week pulled its students out of two Sarrell clinics where they saw patients.
The acrimony is similar to turf battles in other states as companies, rather than private dentists, step in to care for young people covered by Medicaid. The private offices typically take Medicaid patients, but advocates say there simply aren't enough dentists to treat the needy across the country.
The conflicts, which have been brewing over a decade, could become more common with the passage of President Barack Obama's health care bill, which includes mandatory dental coverage for kids, said Meg Booth of the Washington-based advocacy group Children's Dental Health Project.