Officials with the Florida Department of Health and the Metropolitan Bureau of Investigation (MBI) recently raided an Orange County, Florida, home and discovered an elaborate unlicensed dentist’s office. The accused illegal dentist allegedly had everything from an old X-ray machine to a full dental lab with orthodontic equipment. But what she didn’t have was a license to practice dentistry in Florida.
According to the Orlando Sentinel, the dentist was a licensed dental hygienist in Florida and claimed to be licensed as a dentist in her native Brazil. Investigators couldn’t verify this, according to the reports. She faces charges of practicing unlicensed dentistry and operating an unregistered dental lab.
Minority Areas a Hot Spot for Unlicensed Dentists.
Unlicensed dentists typically seen in South Florida and in minority communities are becoming a bigger issue in Central Florida, according to a liaison officer from the Florida Department of Health. This seems to be caused by an influx of foreign health professionals into immigrant communities around the Central Florida region. According to data released by the Department of Health, the statewide number of unlicensed dental investigations has remained moderately steady: 47 during 2011-12, 50 during 2012-13, and 44 during 2013-14. Most unlicensed dentists claim to be licensed in their (primarily) South American home countries, according to the Florida Department of Health. After coming to Florida, they may be unable to obtain a state license to practice dentistry due to factors like money and language barriers.
An Easy Fix.
Steering clear of illegal dentists might seem like a no-brainer, but for some minorities and lower-paid workers, it can be a popular alternative. In many cases, it may be the only alternative. According to Josephine Mercado, founder of Hispanic Health Initiatives in Orlando, the dentists have no easy way of transferring their licenses to Florida and the immigrants may lack affordable dental care, so the business thrives. Unlicensed dentists generally target clients of the same nationality and word quickly spreads around the community.
Not Worth the Risk.
It’s important to keep in mind how dangerous an unlicensed dentist can be. The chance to save money could end up costing patients a lot more in the long run. Aside from the risk of infection or permanent disfigurement, patients also run the risk of permanent nerve damage and even possible death from improper anesthesia usage.
One of the most publicized cases in recent years was a Hollywood, Florida, woman who had permanent nerve damage after being treated by an unlicensed dentist in 2012. Unlicensed dentist cases, especially ones that result in an injury, have become a top priority for the Department of Health, according to its unlicensed-activity liaison. Click here to read our prior blog about Florida’s cracking down on unlicensed activity.
The license status of almost all health care professionals can easily be checked online. In Florida, license verification for all health care professionals can be checked on the Florida Department of Health (DOH) website here. Hint: If they don’t have a license, they’re not a legitimate health professional.
Should Inexpensive Dental Care Be More Widely Available in Florida?
In my opinion, the State of Florida should be doing a lot more to promote inexpensive dental care for its citizens. The availability of affordable dental care promotes the overall health of the community as a whole, reducing health care costs. Yet the organized dental community seems to oppose measures that would increase competition, increase the number of dentists, or decrease dental expenses.
Efforts of organized dentistry have recently been slapped down by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2014 as monopolistic in the case of North Carolina Board of Dental Examiners v. Federal Trade Commission. Efforts to open additional schools of dentistry have also been torpedoed by the state legislature.
While there are many wonderful dentists who do provide an extraordinary amount of free dental care to their communities, this is the exception rather than the norm.
Florida needs more dental schools, more dentists, and more affordable care for its lower-paid citizens.
What do you think about the illegal dentistry problem in Florida? What do you think can be done to improve this situation? Should inexpensive dental care be more widely available in Florida? Please leave any thoughtful comments below.
Contact Health Law Attorneys Experienced with Department of Health Investigations of Dentists.
The attorneys of The Health Law Firm provide legal representation to dentists in Department of Health (DOH) investigations, Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) investigations, FBI investigations and other types of investigations of health professionals and providers.
To contact The Health Law Firm, please call (407) 331-6620 or (850) 439-1001 and visit our website at www.TheHealthLawFirm.com.
Alanez, Tonya. “Arrests Shed Light On Practice of Unlicensed Dentistry in South Florida.” Sun Sentinel. (August 5, 2013). From:
Allen, Stephanie. “Illegal Dentists a Danger to Central Florida Immigrant Communities, Officials Say.” Orlando Sentinel. (May 23, 2015). From:
About the Author: George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., is Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law. He is the President and Managing Partner of The Health Law Firm, which has a national practice. Its main office is in the Orlando, Florida area. www.TheHealthLawFirm.com The Health Law Firm, 1101 Douglas Ave., Altamonte Springs, FL 32714, Phone (407) 331-6620.
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