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Message from the Interim Health Officer for Los Angeles County
Jeffrey Gunzenhauser, MD, MPH

June 18, 2018

Dental Scams: Protect Yourself and Your Family

Preventing and treating dental disease is essential to maintaining overall health and well-being at every stage of life. Children need their baby teeth to eat and speak properly, and to help keep the space in their jaw for adult teeth to settle in. During adulthood, poor oral hygiene and lack of proper dental care can lead to a serious form of periodontal disease called periodontitis, a gum infection that may cause bleeding, pain, and damage to tissue and surrounding bone, which may result in tooth loss. In fact, researchers have found that periodontitis is linked to diseases such as diabetes and heart disease. Older adults may experience increased tooth decay (caries) from having a dry mouth caused by taking multiple medications. Older adults are also at higher risk for mouth cancer, which can be diagnosed early during routine dental exams and treated early for optimal outcomes.

Even though dental health is extremely important, many people do not see a dentist every year. Co-pays and other costs may be expensive even if someone has dental insurance. Patients may worry that they cannot afford to pay for dental care and, as a result, might look for cheaper options that could be risky. This might explain why unlicensed dentistry is becoming an increasing problem in Los Angeles County.

Unlicensed Dentistry is a Serious Problem in Los Angeles County

People who seek care from an unlicensed dentist usually find out about the services by word of mouth and may be tempted by promises of lower costs or minimal wait times for appointments. Some consumers seek this care only to learn later, often after unexpected complications, that the person who performed the dental treatment was not licensed or qualified.

Unlicensed dentists perform a range of unlawful and potentially dangerous practices including invasive dental procedures like tooth extractions and root canals, or tests like x-ray imaging. They work in offices, homes, and other non-clinical, unhygienic settings such as hair salons, garages, and restaurants. They may also operate illegal dental laboratories that make poor quality or harmful implants and dentures. People who practice illegally may have limited dental experience such as a dental assistant or a dental laboratory technician, may have been dentists in other countries but are unable to meet California’s licensing standards, or have had their license revoked by the Dental Board of California due to malpractice or illegal activity.

Getting dental care from an unlicensed person can lead to dangerous complications, permanent injury, and chronic health problems. It can also delay or prevent a person from getting the proper treatment they need. In one recent case, a woman was convicted of practicing dentistry without a license from her living room. She injured a patient during a procedure that led to hospitalization and risk of permanent nerve damage. A patient of another convicted unlicensed dentist became seriously ill with an infection and ultimately lost several teeth after having a dental procedure in a garage.

How Can I Get Safe Dental Care?

Consumers may not know that free or low cost, safe dental care is available in Los Angeles County to any child or adult who needs it regardless of their ability to pay or their immigration status. All adults and children (after their first birthday or once the first baby tooth has erupted) must visit a licensed dentist for check-ups and preventive care semi-annually and maintain a minimum daily dental hygiene routine that includes brushing and flossing twice per day. Take the following steps to ensure that you and your family have safe dental care.

  • Find a Dental Care Program. There are several Los Angeles County dental clinics that provide preventive and emergency dental services at low or no cost. To learn more:
    • Call the LA Healthline at 1-800-793- 8090. This hotline, run by the Department of Public Health Monday through Friday from 8 am to 5 pm, provides confidential services in multiple languages.
    • Dial 2-1-1 for the Los Angeles County Infoline or visit their website. 2-1-1 services are offered 24 hours a day, 7 days a week in English, Spanish, and other languages.
    • Call the Denti-Cal Beneficiary Helpline at 1-800-322-6384 to learn about Denti-Cal, the State dental insurance program. If you have or are eligible for Medi-Cal, you are also eligible for Denti-Cal. However, you must sign up for Denti-Cal separately.
    • Visit the Los Angeles Dental Society website to find a dentist in your area.
  • Check your dentist’s professional license on the Dental Board of California website. All dentists practicing in California are regulated by the Dental Board of California.
  • Shop around. Don’t be shy about calling or visiting the dental office before deciding on a dentist. Schedule a consultation time to meet with the dentist and staff before making an appointment, and do not be afraid to ask for a second opinion.
  • Don’t ever take the risk of going to an unlicensed dentist. It can lead to cause serious harm.

How Can I Report a Problem?

  • If you have been a victim of a dental scam or someone pretending to be a dentist, call the Los Angeles County Department of Consumer and Business Affairs at 1-800-593-8222. This hotline provides services in multiple languages. Staff can help you report a problem to the police or file a complaint with the Dental Board of California.
  • You can also file a complaint with the Dental Board of California if you think you have encountered an unlicensed dentist or have concerns about dental care you have received.

Visit the Department of Public Health’s Health Care Consumer Protection website for more information on how to protect yourself and your family from dental and other health scams.

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Text | Video: English | En Español

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Text | Video: English | En Español

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Text | Video: English | En Español

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