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Abusive Dental Clinics

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Young children and toddlers are being abused in the name of assembly line dentistry, and taxpayers are paying the bill. Private Equity firms are illegally operating dental clinics and defrauding Medicaid, and some state dental boards claim they are powerless to do anything about it.

Imagine a three-year-old boy, restrained by three fully-grown adults who are pinching his little nose closed to force him to open his mouth. If he resists in the least, he is likely going to be strapped to a papoose board—a straightjacket-like device used to restrain a child’s body from his shoulders to his feet.

Use of a papoose board can be terrifying to a young child – particularly when a child’s parents are not allowed in the room and the dentist has not taken any time to talk to calm and reassure the child about what is going to happen. Not surprisingly, children restrained in these situations have experienced significant and in some cases dangerous levels of increased heart rates, loss of control over their bladder or bowels, night terrors, and a crippling fear of going back to the dentist, among other issues.

Other forms of abuse inflicted on young children in these Private Equity run dental clinics include:

  • Multiple unnecessary root canals and crowns
  • Invasive procedures done without the parent’s knowledge or consent
  • Fillings, crowns, and extractions done without the use of any local anesthesia
  • Procedures done so quickly that they result in perforated nerve chambers and painful abscesses

These are painful and difficult scenes to imagine—yet they have occurred in Private Equity run dental clinics across the country for several years.

The problem is that these dentists are working for clinics that are illegally owned and operated by Private Equity firms, and some state dental boards say they are powerless to protect our children from them.

Private Equity dental practices are illegal in the U.S.
Dentists, just like lawyers and doctors, are professionals who owe their highest duty and responsibility to the genuine needs of their patients. They are obligated to put the needs of the people they serve above the need for profit, performing only those procedures that are medically necessary and with the least restrictive means.

Private Equity firms have a different responsibility—they owe a duty to their owners and investors to maximize profits. As a result, clinics owned and operated by Private Equity firms are focused, not on what the patient needs, but on how best to make the most profit.

Compare these two sets of concerns, and you start to see the conflicts:

Dentists …

Private Equity owned dental clinics…

Are obligated to do only those procedures that the patient needs.

Put pressure on their employee dentists to do as many procedures as they can in order to maximize profit.

Have a duty to provide the very best care to their patients with the least restrictive means.

Rush through procedures as quickly as possible because they are focused on volume, not quality of care.

Can be held accountable by state dental boards, having their license to practice dentistry removed.

Can’t have their license revoked because Private Equity firms cannot be licensed to practice dentistry.

Are medical professionals in which the public places a high trust.

Are exploiting the trust of the public and bilking taxpayer-funded programs by submitting claims for unnecessary dental procedures.

We believe Private Equity dental clinics are a disaster for healthcare in America. They combine a relentless pursuit of profit with shoddy, inadequate and inappropriate dental care. And we believe the cost is higher than any of us should be willing to pay.

How are they getting away with it?
Private Equity firms cannot hold a license to practice dentistry in any state. Only a living, breathing, individual human being can graduate from a dental school program, take state board exams, and be licensed to practice dentistry. Only a licensed dentist can legally own and operate a dental clinic and legally perform dental procedures.

How are Private Equity groups managing to own and operate dental clinics across the country? Some of these groups own hundreds of clinics, in dozens of states.

A common tactic is to set up a front man as the “owner.” The Private Equity firm purchases several dental practices, and then hires a dentist to be the owner on paper. These shill owners are paid a monthly stipend to represent to the states that they own and operate the clinic.

In reality they do not own the clinic. They do not operate it. They do not even hire anyone to fill these roles. Instead, they transfer all of the profits of the clinic to Private Equity firms, who are the real owners.

In every state, there is a dental board that is generally comprised of professionals from the industry, granted power by the state to regulate the practice of dentistry within their borders. The board has the charge and the duty to protect the citizens of the state from the unlawful practice of dentistry.

In recent testimony before the Public Health Committee of the Texas House of Representatives, the Texas State Board of Dental Examiners (TSBDE) claimed that they were powerless to do anything. (Committee on Public Health, April 11, 2012)

“We do regulate dentistry,” said Joy Sparks, the Board’s legal counsel. “If you own a clinic you are practicing dentistry in the state. The problem is, our remedy is to sanction a license. If someone is practicing dentistry under a corporate clinic or private equity, they are not licensed. So we refer those cases [to the Attorney General’s office, because we don’t regulate them.] We don’t do anything with people who are practicing without a license.

The state board, designed specifically to regulate dentistry and to enforce the laws relating to dentistry within the state, claims they can do nothing to Private Equity dental clinics, because those corporations aren’t licensed to practice dentistry?

This is a little like a police officer letting a drunk driver go free because he didn’t have a driver’s license. When is the right time to enforce the law? Before or after it causes harm?

Incompatible and intolerable
You cannot have a medical system whose focus is maximizing profits generated by a caregiver. The care system in the United States is based on the professional judgment of trained and qualified people who are focused on providing their patients with what they need by the least restrictive means. A significant portion of the system has been turned over to Private Equity firms such as Morgan Stanley Private Equity, American Capital, and the Carlyle Group.

Little children, some as young as two years old, are taken into back rooms, restrained on papoose boards, and otherwise held down by adults who force their mouths open and do rapid and unnecessary dental procedures. Whether or not these children needed these procedures is irrelevant to the Private Equity firms that own these clinics. Their only concern is maximizing profit.

This is happening right now, in states across the nation, and dental boards such as TSBDE are burying their heads in the sand, saying, “They don’t have a license, so we can’t do anything about it.”

Now it is time to stop these folks from claiming more victims.

Medicaid and taxpayers are paying the bills
If you are searching for a motive for these ongoing cases of abuse, you’ll find it invested in multi-million-dollar homes, expensive automobiles, private yachts and airplanes, and other forms of luxury that are the reward for dentists who sell their dental practices to the Private Equity firms. Consider this story from Dallas ABC affiliate, WFAA:

READ: Did dentists fuel their private jets with Medicaid money?

Medicaid is meant to provide financial assistance to those who need medical treatment but can’t afford it. Unfortunately there is no system of checks and balances in place to prevent Private Equity firms from billing Medicaid for procedures that would not qualify and that were medically unnecessary.

Learn more about protecting children from abusive dental practices
The articles below will give you the complete story on how these Private Equity dental practices work, and how they are impacting the lives of children and families across the U.S.

READ: Cashing In By Cashing Out

READ: Mouths of Babes

READ: The Corporate Practice of Medicine

Maybe we can help
We represent hundreds of cases of young children who have suffered abuse from Private Equity dental clinics. Our goal is to bring justice to these children, and to put a stop to these illegal and abusive dental practices.

If you believe your child received improper dental treatment at an abusive dental clinic, we would like to hear from you. If you believe that your child received improper dental treatment at a Private Equity owned dental clinic, we would like to hear from you. Contact us using the form at the top of the page. Or you can reach us by phone at 800.677.7095.

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Video

WATCH: I-Team: Small Smiles Investigation: This video from WJLA, an ABC affiliate station in Washington, D.C., will change the way you think about dental clinics forever.

WARNING: Some scenes in this video will be disturbing to watch.

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