Friday, February 15, 2008

Former Dentist With Small Smiles Confesses

WARNING: Video at the end of this report may be very disturbing.

(Rochester, N.Y.) - Last December, 13WHAM showed a disturbing video tape of children strapped in restraints undergoing multiple root canals while their parents were kept out of the room.

Now, the man who once ran the Irondequoit Small Smiles Branch is speaking out for the first time.

He was jailed for fraud. In a follow-up to our 13 WHAM News investigation, he told Jane Flasch that some of the procedures that so traumatized children weren't even necessary.

Rochester's Small Smiles dental office opened with a promise to serve children who don't get regular dental care. Clinic director, Dr. David Gardner, was hauled into a Monroe County court 14 months later.

Gardner pleaded guilty to grand larceny and left Rochester for prison. Now, he wants to come clean about what he says was going on behind closed doors on Ridge Road in Irondequoit.

"Taxpayer dollars are being wasted because they're paying for treatment that's not getting done, treatment that doesn't need to be done, and children aren't being treated like children," Gardner said.

Ashley Sones was a patient during that time. Nine of her teeth were extracted. Another dentist reviewed Ashley's x-rays.

He confirmed that at least two of her teeth could have been saved. But, her file did not contain enough information about the rest.

She never did get partial she was promised; it was denied.

Some very young Small Smiles patients had metal caps, crowns, and root canals. Dentists dispute whether root canals and crowns are the best treatment option for young patients.

However, Gardner said he was under pressure from the corporation to make $1 million every year.

"The biggest thing you can do is those baby root canals and crowns because it’s $220 that Medicaid does not question. It’s just $220, $220, $220," Gardner said.

The Rochester office would not allow cameras inside.

Gardner said they routinely used another controversial technique to restrain children. On an attached video taken at a Small Smiles in Maryland, you can see a small child strapped to a papoose board which holds his body and arms immobile.

Gardner said papoose boards were encouraged in order to complete four or more root canals at a time. Even though it made kids frightened and stressed.

"Stressed out enough to wet their pants, sweat completely through their clothes, be all wet," Gardner said. He said he was told, “Clean them up as best you can before you give them to mom and dad."

Ashley Sones said both she and her younger brother Wesley were physically held down.

"My heart was racing,” she said. “It felt like blood was rushing through my body."

Their mother never even knew. It was Small Smiles policy not to allow parents to be with their children.

"I trusted them,” said Ashley’s mother Wendy. “That's their job."

Since our reports first aired in December, Small Smiles changed its policies. It now allows parents to be present with their children for procedures.

While it still uses papoose boards, the policy is clearly posted and parents can refuse. As for Gardner, the company characterized him as someone with an ax to grind.

Gardner confessed to billing Medicaid for work he did not do.

Investigators say Small Smiles cooperated in the investigation against Gardner and repaid nearly half a million dollars.

Gardner has surrendered his medical license and now sells RVs in Indianapolis.

He says he was pressured into the Small Smiles way of doing business with the understanding that if he were caught, he would be taken care of.

"I've lost my career, I've lost my livelihood," he said.

A member of the Pediatric Dentistry Program at SUNY Buffalo conducted an independent review of the Small Smiles Rochester office last month.

He concluded that restraints, crowns, and other procedures are being used in the proper manner.

Nevertheless, we were not allowed to see a copy of the review documents.

The reviewer spent only half a day at the clinic and did not interview parents. Criminal investigations are underway in several states including New York.
Small Smiles is the name of the clinics in the Rochester NY area, however they also go under different names including Kool Smiles, all managed my FORBA, LLC out of Nashville, TN a subsidiary of Arcapita Bank based in the Middle East.

See this dentists Plea Agreement, Read about his bonus paid to him from Small Smiles, and more here

Since the report aired, Small Smiles has changed its policies, now allowing parents to accompany their children during procedures. Small Smiles cooperated with authorities, repaid close to half a million dollars.

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