SAN ANTONIO - Children in severe pain, infections and accusations of unnecessary dental work -- the News 4 WOAI Trouble Shooters have been getting complaints for months about a chain of dental offices here in San Antonio. Those clinics are making millions off your tax dollars. Brian Collister has the results of his six month investigation.
Four-year-old Ethan Gallegos has a mouthful of silver. His mother says the dentist at the Smile Center on Blanco Road put her son through a lot of pain, capping ten of his teeth last August.
“They capped all ten of his teeth that they said needed to be capped in - I'd say - within thirty to forty minutes. So it was really, really quick,” explained Ethan’s mother Yolanda Tobias.
Days after the procedure, Ethan was in severe pain.
“He was on the floor screaming, crying, grabbing his cheek, shaking and basically telling me, ‘I can't take it any more! I can't take it anymore! It hurts!’”
A few weeks later doctors at the UT Dental School had to pull seven of the ten teeth that were capped at the Smile Center. They also treated Ethan for infections.
Yolanda says she's been warning other parents ever since.
“Please don't take them there,” says Yolanda. “I don't want them to go through what my son has already gone through.”
Ethan's story is a familiar one to Teresa Alvarez.
“They look like they took all his teeth out and put silver teeth in,” explained Teresa.
Her three-year-old son David had twenty teeth capped at the same Smile Center by the same dentist.
“He looked like he had gotten beat up,” said Teresa. “Like somebody had beat up my son. And like I, literally, walked in and I just cried.”
David's father has filed a complaint with the State Board of Dental Examiners against the Smile Center dentist. In the complaint he says his son got more treatment than actually needed, and the work was sloppy and requires attention.
In fact, another dentist who does not work at a Smile Center treated David for an infection a few days later. That new dentist also had to redo four baby root canals and replace 16 caps that had come loose. The dentist also had to scrape excess cement out of David's mouth.
“All they saw was glue in his mouth. He had glue in his mouth. When you look at a silver tooth you think it’s a little more polished. It was dirty because it was the cement they put on there,” said Teresa.
Teresa says the Smile Center billed Medicaid $5,000 dollars for the work.
Both moms are on Medicaid and were approached while shopping by a Smile Center employee. Our undercover producer talked to a Smile Center staffer at a Westside shopping center who. The staffer said most of their patients are on Medicaid.
"Medicaid covers everything,” said the staffer. “The majority of people we have use Medicaid.”
In fact, Smile Center has made more than $26 Million dollars from Medicaid claims in San Antonio since 2007 according to records from the Texas Health and Human Services Commission.
Dentist Loren Alves is a member of the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry. Dr Alves says he sees a lot of patients from the Smile Center because of what in his opinion is substandard and unnecessary dental work.
“The crowns are coming off. The cement is being left in there to cause infection to the teeth. The kids are still in pain. And the parents don't want to go back because of that overkill,” said Dr. Alves.
Tradis Kamara visited the Smile Center's WW White location with her son Talib last October.
“Their true motivation is to get money, and they're willing to sabotage our children in the process of doing it because they know we can't do much about it,” Tradis told News 4 WOAI.
Dr Alves had to recap two of Talib's teeth after both crowns came off. But it's what happened during the procedure at Smile Center's WW White location that enraged her.
“He held his mouth open like an animal, and he was just drilling and drilling until a sharp needle - drill - went clean through my baby’s lip from one end to the other,” said Tradis. “There was blood everywhere. They tried to suppress it and it's like there's blood seeping through the gauze. And you're continuing to drill my baby’s mouth. It takes a parent beyond furious.”
The Smile Center tells us the two dentists who worked on the children in our story are no longer with the dental chain.
The Smile Center is owned by Doctor Stephen Simpton. In a written statement the Smile Center told us, "We have served more than 45,000 patients over an 11-year period, for which we have received normal and customary compensation from Medicaid. The Smile Center dental treatment and billing procedures have never been questioned by any local, state or federal authority.”
As for all the kids we've seen with their mouths full of silver caps, the Smile Center says, "We work to preserve the primary teeth, often utilizing a crown to create a barrier to prevent further decay and to protect the tooth buds of the underlying permanent teeth. Unfortunately, not all teeth can be saved and may ultimately require extraction.”
The Smile Center also told us, "We take great pride in both the level of professionalism within our company ranks and the fact that no dentist on the Smile Center team has any form of official complaint, sanction or disciplinary action on their records with the Texas State Board of Dental Examiners."
The entire statement from the Smile Center can be read here…
If you've had a problem with a dentist, you can file a complaint. The Texas State Board of Dental Examiners explains the procedure here…
You can report Medicaid waste, abuse or fraud by calling 800-436-6184.