Are Some Dentists Drilling For Dollars?
Going to the dentist is a scary proposition for many people. But imagine what it must be like for a child who goes to the dentist and comes out with a mouthful of metal crowns that may have been unnecessary.
When she was just four-years-old, Savannah’s mother Alicea White says she took her daughter to the Happy Valley Pediatric Dentistry in Phoenix, AZ for a routine appointment.
But Alicea says instead of just filing four cavities on Savannah, dentist Dr. Karan Nett turned Savannah’s mouth into a smile of steel.
“I was completely shocked,” said Alicea. “All that silver in her mouth. I was like, ‘Oh my God, what happened?’”
Alicea says every single tooth in Savannah's mouth was crowned with metal!
People compared her new smile to the James Bond villain, Jaws.
Alicea said, “It broke my heart. I was in tears right along with her.”
Alicea believes Dr. Nett was just drilling for dollars; doing unnecessary and excessive work to jack up the bill.
INSIDE EDITION’s Lisa Guerrero tried to speak with her outside her clinic.
“I'd like to talk to you about a little girl whose mouth you filled with metal? Would you like to look at these pictures and explain these pictures?” Guerrero asked Dr. Nett as she walked to her car.
Dr. Nett did not respond to Guerrero but has denied any wrongdoing, saying the work was necessary due to Savannah's significant tooth decay.
It turns out that metal mouth cases like Savannah's are not rare.
One look at Maya Anderson's mouth and you can see why she falls to pieces reliving her traumatic trip to this dental chain in San Antonio, Texas called the Smile Center.
“I had 24 teeth worked on. All I have is like five teeth left. I’m sorry. He ground down my teeth so small they were like little stubs.”
The dentist who worked on Maya's teeth for eight hours is Dr. Mark Hong, and Maya's isn't the only patient who claims he drilled for dollars.
On just five children, parents allege that Dr. Hong performed over 30 baby root canals and crowned over 50 teeth.
These parents have joined Maya in filing a lawsuit against Dr. Hong and the Smile Center, alleging Dr. Hong used "barbaric" techniques to perform "excessive and unnecessary work" that caused their children pain and emotional suffering.
“I just want him to know that he really hurt and damaged a lot of people,” said Rose Wallace, mother of two children seen by Dr. Hong at the Smile Center.
Some of the parents say the extensive work Dr. Hong performed on their kids’ mouths has made them too embarrassed to smile.
“He's like, I don't have anything left to smile with,” said mother Yolanda Tobias.
Attorney Tom Crosley represents over 250 children making allegations against the smile center.
“I'll give you an example: a child comes in, complaining of no trouble, no problems with any of their teeth. Thirty minutes later, the child comes out with ten or fifteen root canals, ten or fifteen stainless steel crowns,” said Crosley.
The lawsuit also alleges, Dr. Hong repeatedly used the controversial restraining device called a “papoose board” when he treated many kid patients. The alleged goal: to ‘maximize billings.'
New Mexico dentist Dr. Michael Davis never uses the papoose but says some dentists do in special circumstances.
“They are put into basically a baby straight jacket,” said Dr. Davis. “They crank their mouths open and they go to town.”
Dr. Hong no longer works for the Smile Center and denies all the parents allegations.
INSIDE EDITION tried to speak with Dr. Hong, but discovered that after the lawsuit was filed, he not only left Texas, but also left the country, and he's now living in South Korea.
So we took our questions to the owner of the Smile Center, Dr. Stephen Simpton.
“Are your Smile Center clinics taking advantage of needy kids in order to maximize profits?” Guerrero asked Dr. Simpton in the parking lot of a San Antonio, TX mall.
“Absolutely not,” he replied.
Dr. Simpton denies all the parents allegations and says the work was necessary.
“Is it necessary to do all this work on baby teeth?” asked Guerrero.
Dr. Simpton answered, “Sometimes it is, yes.”
And your tax dollars paid for a lot of the dental work done by the Smile Center. According to the lawsuit, the Smile Center’s six clinics allegedly collected $55 million dollars from Medicaid between 2008 and 2010 alone. The Texas Attorney General is currently investigating the Smile Center, which denies any wrongdoing.
As for Maya, she’s now trying to get on with her life. She got dental implants to replace all the teeth she says Dr. Hong grounded down. And now, for the first time in a long while, she's trying to smile again.