Dodgy dentists get case of truth decay

By James Quiggle
January 12, 2009

Letitia Balance and Michael DeRose


Four-year-old Brandon Dillbeck went into the Medicaid Dental Center for routine teeth cleaning.

Instead, the dentist drilled out and capped 16 of his teeth with stainless steel. Dillbeck was strapped down so he couldn’t struggle.

“The dentists also performed 16 baby root canals and put stainless steel caps on a young girl named Sarah, and gave a 3-year-old boy 17 root canals and 17 caps”Children had multiple teeth yanked and root canals performed in single appointments at the North Carolina clinic chain in Charlotte, Winston-Salem, Ashville and Raleigh.

The clinics owned by dentists Letitia Balance and Michael DeRose overbilled North Carolina Medicaid with needless, invasive and traumatic surgeries on helpless children from low-income families.

"When he came out he was crying, his whole shirt was soaking wet with sweat," Christy Dillbeck told reporters after Brandon emerged from the office. "His whole head was soaking wet and his mouth was full of gauze, just held open."

The dentists also performed 16 baby root canals and put stainless steel caps on a young girl named Sarah, and gave a 3-year-old boy 17 root canals and 17 caps, according to WCNC-TV investigative reporter Stuart Watson, who exposed the story.

The needless work was done behind the parents’ backs, without their knowledge.

“These dentists subjected their child patients to invasive and sometimes painful procedures, often for the sake of obtaining money from the North Carolina Medicaid program,” said federal prosecutor Jeffrey S. Bucholtz.

Ballance and DeRose agreed to pay $10 million to settle charges that they’d performed needless root canals and placed steel caps on seven children. Neither admits wrongdoing, however.

The North Carolina dental board also placed Ballance and DeRose on three years of probation. Seven other dentists received written reprimands that will follow them throughout their careers.

“It was a very traumatic experience for the children and their parents,” attorney Darren Dawson, who represents several of the families, told the Charlotte News Observer.

“These were children four, five and six who were told by their moms and dads that they were going to visit with trusted professionals. Suddenly they’re in there for three hours and coming out with a mouth of steel.”


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