Trauma at the Dentist: 'They Took My Son's Smile Away'

It's a promise many parents make before taking their children to the dentist: Don't worry, it won't hurt too much. But at some dental clinics catering to low-income families on Medicaid, that promise was broken behind closed doors.

Sources say because Medicaid pays low reimbursement rates, some clinics push to make a profit by performing more procedures than necessary.

Parents claim that the Medicaid Dental Center clinics in North Carolina were more concerned about profits than they were about patients. As a result, their children were left with awful memories, even though several years have passed since their visits.

Brandon Dillbeck was 5 years old when he says he was told during a visit to one of the clinics that if he didn't stop crying, he "couldn't see my mom again."

Brandon's mom, Christy Dillbeck, says she waited two nerve-wracking hours for her son to emerge from the dentist's chair.

"He comes walking out of that door with his whole shirt was full of sweat," she said. "And he had blood dripping from his mouth. And all I could see was silver shining through."

Silver, from a mouthful of crowns the dentist had put in all at once.

"He was freaking out," Dillbeck said. "All I could do was just grab him and hold him and tell him it was going to be OK."

Morgan Gough had a similar experience when he was 6.

"I was like crying for my mom and I was crying because they were hurting me," Morgan said. "I wanted them to stop, but they wouldn't stop. I was like bleeding and crying and really swollen."

And Jazmin Gallegos said she was physically restrained during a visit when she was 4 years old. "They just like pulled my arms back and my legs back and then they strapped me down," she said.

Sandra Franklin says she wasn't allowed past the front desk of the clinic while her daughter was being treated. Later the child reported to her that "they turned the radio really loud, so that no one could hear her crying."

But the biggest shock came later, the mothers of the children say. Morgan was subjected to five pulpotomies -- also known as baby root canals -- plus five fillings and crowns; Jazmin had 11 baby root canals done in a single visit; and another little girl named Antavia Diggsby had 14.

Brandon and another child, Hunter Mungo, each had an astounding 16 baby root canals --nearly every tooth in their mouths. Hunter -- just starting pre-kindergarten -- was teased by other children as a "metal mouth" and said "it just made me feel, like, bad."

"I feel like they took my son's smile away," said Lisa Ward, Hunter's mother. Several of the mothers said they feel some guilt about what their kids went through.

"You believed that they were doing what was best for your child," said Melissa Gough, "and you walk out knowing it wasn't." She says she felt trapped because "there are no other options to take your kids."

The reason: Most dentists won't treat children without private insurance because they lose money on Medicaid's reimbursement rates.

Children Strapped Down, Separated From Parents

The North Carolina clinics were partly owned by Michael DeRose. He and his partner were investigated by the Justice Department, which blamed the clinics for "invasive and sometimes painful procedures" that were not necessary, "for the sake of obtaining money."

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