I am writing to tell about a bizarre experience I just had which I still have a hard time believing really happened to me. I paid for a teeth cleaning which was supposed to cost $65 and ended up costing me $288 and I still didn't get my teeth cleaned.
My dental insurance was due to expire at the end of September (2004) and I wanted to get my teeth cleaned before it did.
I often go to Santa Monica, and there is an office of Western Dental just as you get off the Santa Monica Freeway at Lincoln Blvd. I had seen it there for years and I thought it might be a good place to get my teeth cleaned quickly and economically. The building it is in used to house the Penguin fast food restaurant and bar.
I told the lady behind the counter I wanted to get my teeth cleaned and asked her what it would cost. She said it would be $65, and gave me an appointment for noon the next day (September 22).
I came to the appointment and spent the next half hour filling out numerous papers and questionnaires. I was then taken to a room and the assistant started to take Xrays. At that point I said I didn't come in for Xrays but was there only to get my teeth cleaned. The assistant went away and came back to tell me the dentist would not clean my teeth without first taking Xrays. I asked how much that would cost and was told it would be $68 in addition to the $65 for cleaning my teeth. I agreed to the Xrays as a necessary prelude to the teeth cleaning, since they said the insurance would cover most of it.
I was taken to the next room where I waited for an extended length of time. Then a man who seemed to be a dentist came in and told me I had a small cavity that had to be filled, needed a new bridge, and a cleaning which was more than basic, but not as extensive as a deep cleaning. He also said I grind my teeth at night and should buy a vinyl apparatus to put in my mouth at night. He asked if I wanted to have my teeth whitened. I said no. He said a lady would come in to explain the costs to me. I waited some more.
The lady came in and said if I accepted to do all that the dentist said my co-payment part of the bill would be about $1,500, but I could pay it in installments. I said no thanks, that I only wanted the basic teeth cleaning. I waited again.
At this point it really gets funny. A young man came in with a female assistant. He seemed to be a foreigner as he didn't speak English very well. I asked what his name was and he told me something I didn't understand, but sounded like it might be Arabic. I told him he could call me Jim.
I could tell immediately he was not a skilled technician he hurt my gums just putting the little round mirror in the front of my mouth. Anyway, he scraped for about thirty seconds on a couple of my lower front teeth. He then put a brush on his polishing tool and loaded it up with polishing paste. He seemed to be having trouble with the equipment. His tool was leaking and splashing water all over me and himself. It was all the assistant could do to keep me from choking on the water. In addition, there was no sink or basin to spit the water and polishing compound into. They had also not given me an apron, just a small bib, so my shirt got wet. I was not offered a Kleenex.
He continued for about a minute with this operation and then suddenly shut his machine off, threw up his hands and said That's it!. The whole teeth cleaning session had taken not more than three minutes,
I have had my teeth cleaned many times, and I couldn't believe what I was hearing. I said something like, You mean you're finished?! I was told he was done and I should go pay at the front on the way out. Surprisingly, I did. I guess I was in shock, or maybe just wanted to see how far they would go in pretending to be a dental office.
I was presented with a non-itemized bill for $288 and I still haven't had my teeth cleaned.
The enclosed description of service, while so ridiculous it is humorous, represents something which should not exist in the professional atmosphere of dentistry
I looked at the people in the waiting room, however, and felt sorry that they would be taken advantage of by this group of thieves masquerading as dentists. Most of the people were poor or minorities and some spoke only Spanish. I think this is the clientele these fake dentists find it easiest to prey upon. I seriously doubt if the person who was supposed to clean my teeth has passed any classes or has any credentials to be working in a dental clinic.
This office is a sham, and only exists to line the pockets of its owners, with no sense of medical ethics or social conscience. Having read this letter and the description of my experience, I urge you not to even go into this establishment and be wary of all offices in their chain, which seem to have no oversight, judging by other complaints I have seen.
They should be investigated by the police or some regulatory agency. I would welcome suggestions on who to contact or how to put them out of business.
santa monica, California