News 5 Investigates

Nov 13, 2013 1:14 AM by Eric Ross

News 5 Investigates: Dentists potentially putting patients at risk

News 5 Investigates is asking tough questions about why Colorado dentists convicted of malpractice and those with criminal backgrounds are allowed to practice dentistry.

Dentists who have their licenses revoked can get a brand new one in as little as two years. When it comes to second chances, News 5 uncovers our state has some of the most lenient laws in the nation.

There are more than 4,000 licensed dentists in Colorado. All are under the direct supervision of the State Board of Dental Examiners in Denver. The Board's mission is to protect the public and investigate claims of malpractice.

Between July 1, 2012 and June 30, 2013, the Board received 253 complaints.

"We get both sides of the story and then make a decision on how to proceed and whether there is enough information to warrant disciplinary action or whether it needs to be dismissed," Maulid Miskell, the Board's program director said.

Out of the 253 complaints, the Board took disciplinary action against 100 dentists and dental hygienists for the 2013 fiscal year.

Data for the following fiscal years is noted below:
2012: 226 complaints; 74 disciplinary actions
2011: 261 complaints; 63 disciplinary actions

"These are large numbers, but when you look at the big picture, it's a small percentage when you look at the overall numbers of licensed dentists out there," Miskell said.

On the surface, the majority of dentists are in full compliance with the State Board of Dental Examiners. However, sifting through pages of licenses, we found a handful who have been in trouble numerous times, and yet, they are still able to practice dentistry in Colorado.

Take Doctor Ronald F. Lambert for example. He has a history of substance abuse and admitted using methamphetamine. He also has a criminal background including domestic violence and a felony burglary in Washington state. Reports say Lambert and a friend broke into a home and assaulted an elderly woman who later died. Sentenced to 20 years in prison, he was released after spending just two and half years behind bars. He then came to Colorado and obtained his dentistry license.

Then there's Doctor Larry Haws. Records say he issued 130 fraudulent prescriptions for Lurcet or Lortab to himself. In 2007, he tested positive for benzodiazepines. After undergoing rehab, Haws applied for, and received a new dental license.

"Revocation means a two-year time out," Maulid explained. "It's not permanent in nature."

This means that dentists in Colorado who have their licenses revoked, can fill out the paperwork two years later to get a new license. That's not the case in other states. In Utah, Wyoming, Pennsylvania and Arizona, dentists must wait 5 years before re-applying for a license. In Arkansas and Florida, a license can never be reinstated once it's revoked.

News 5 asked, "Is the two-year time frame to wait in Colorado a slap on the wrist?"

Miskell replied, "I don't think so. It's the the legislators who have deemed to be an appropriate period of time. Two years is a long time to be out of a profession that they've spent a lot of education and time to enter."

Miskell adds that many of the dentists who have their licenses revoked at one point or another can be rehabilitated over time, but with that, comes a risk.

"It''s just incredibly rIdiculous that people should have to have these kinds of concerns," Mary Ann Sherrie said.

Sherrie is a former patient of Doctor Stephen Stein, who's made national headlines recently after the dental board says he reused needles and syringes on his patients over the course of 12 years. Six former patients tested positive for hepatitis or HIV.

Stein surrendered his license in 2012.

"I completely trusted him," Sherrie said. " I mean he was so professional."

Despite concerns from the state health department, which sent out 8,000 letters to his former patients asking them to get tested, Stein will be able to apply for a brand new license next year.

To check your the background of your dentist or dental hygienist, visit the link below:



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