Most people take for granted that their dentist is competent — and has gone through the proper legal channels to certify this fact — but as the examples below indicate, there is a disturbingly large number of individuals in the US practicing dentistry without a license. In some cases, they were dentists in other decades or in other countries and never made the transition to the here and now. In other cases, they are dental assistants who can’t wait to become full-fledged dentists and end up jumping the gun. And in some cases, they’re just wackos with a tooth fetish. Whatever the fake dentists’ backstory, though, they primarily seem to take advantage of the poor and the uninsured looking for a good deal on dental work. But as these stories show, you generally get what you pay for. If you want to verify your dentist’s license, by the way, here’s a handy list of state dental boards.
12) Underground Dentistry (2010)
Falls Church, Virginia: The first clue that your dentist might not be legit is that her office is located in a basement that’s accessible only by a hidden door behind a refrigerator. This is the setup that phony dentist Amparo Rodriguez, 48, had when she performed a root canal on a patient. The procedure led to an infection, which led to a disgruntled customer, which in turn led to an arrest for “felony invasive procedure.”
11) Hi, I’m Rusty, and This Is My Friend Bloody (2008)
West Palm Beach, Florida: With friends like Luis Sanchez, who needs teeth? Stopped by police for running a red light, Sanchez was discovered to be driving around with bloody, rusty dental tools in his car. He admitted that he had been performing dental work on “friends” to earn some extra money. Police later found more dentistry tools in Sanchez’s presumably very red home.
10) Biter Beware (1994)
Suffolk, New York: Think that a few jacked-up teeth is the worst that can happen from visiting an unlicensed dentist? Well, consider the case of Gilberto Cordova, 47, an El Salvadoran immigrant who was caught illegally catering to his fellow countrymen’s dental needs. When a patient whom he’d given a root canal developed an infection that required several teeth being pulled (by a real dentist), Cordova’s illegal practice came to light. In addition to practicing dentistry without a license, he was charged with “violation of environmental laws in disposing of x-ray film and other items” and “failure to use procedures necessary to prevent the spread of the AIDS virus.” So, if losing your teeth isn’t bad enough, you could also catch AIDS and destroy the environment. Congrats.
9) To Catch a Dentist (1978)
Colorado Springs, Colorado: Even fake dentists tend to have an office setup — rudimentary as it might be — but Robert J. Brantley, 39, did away with such formalities, setting up shop whenever and wherever he could find a patient (read: victim). Case in point, 10-year-old Robert Pizzitola, whom Brantley approached in a movie theater and who somehow held still while Brantley removed four teeth by hand. “Doctor Bob” was suspected in removing the teeth of two other small children earlier in the year.
8) Wino Dentist (2008)
Peekskill, New York: I suppose if you’re willing to visit a dentist who operates out of the kitchen of his home — as Ecuadoran native Carlos Flores did — you shouldn’t be surprised that he uses a jug (!) of wine as an anesthetic.
7) Tool Time (2012)
Palm Bay, Florida: Got a spare $150 lying around? For that not-so-low sum, fake dentist John Tibaduiza will pull your tooth using nothing but a set of pliers! But wait, there’s more! For no additional charge, he’ll accidentally slice your tongue! And if you feel lingering pain days later, don’t worry, and don’t ask for pain medication; the feeling with just go away on its own…when you die.
6) Serial Puller (1930)
St. Louis, Missouri: Elwyn Bentley, 60, was a retired banker who claimed that he pulled teeth as a “hobby,” but it certainly sounded like more of a fetish. He reportedly pulled the teeth of 200 patients — all women — free of charge, including a 29-year-old lady whom he supposedly offered a free cleaning. She consented, and before she knew it, he’d pulled three of her teeth. When she protested, he vanished, but two years later, he approached her with the same offer, not realizing she was one of his previous victims. She again accepted and then called police, who arrested Bentley for practicing dentistry without a license and assault.
5) Take Two Bullets and Call Me in the Morning (2010)
Portland, Oregon: When you go to a non-professional dentist, you should expect non-professional customer service. Such was the case with 80-year-old Viktor Gregorevich Gebauer, an unlicensed dentist from Russia who shot and killed a man who had a tooth pulled eight days earlier and had returned seeking treatment for his pain. In some respect, I suppose he got it.
4) Making an Impression (1988)
North Hollywood, California: When a woman came into the “clinic” (i.e., the apartment) of unlicensed dentist Oscar Moran, 22, complaining of a toothache, he told her that she needed four crowns and quoted a price of $500. In order to make an impression of her teeth, he poured hot plastic to form a mold but then left the room, and by the time he returned, the mold was so hard that he couldn’t pry it off. For TWO HOURS, Oscar and his fellow illegal dentist brother Marvin, 23, literally hammered at the mold — during which time, the patient’s painkiller had worn off — before it finally came loose. Needless to say, she wasn’t pleased and turned them into the police. The cost to get a legitimate dentist to repair the damage done was more than $3,000.
3) Gettin’ Medieval (1986)
Van Nuys, California: As if it weren’t bad enouth that an unlicensed dentist could be working on your kid’s teeth, it’s possible that he could also be a child molestor. That was the case with Carlos Andrade, 34, who was arrested for molesting a six-year-old girl in a dental office operating out of a three-bedroom home. He and fellow Ecuadorian native Carmen Cevallos, 29, ran the office, which catered to illegal immigrants without health insurance who want inexpensive care and who were wary of filling out paperwork. When police raided the home, they found a scene “like something out of the Dark Ages,” including electricians’ pliers for tooth pulling, a porcelain spit bowl that channeled blood and saliva through a pipe into the backyard and sterilizing equipment that, ironically, was crawling with roaches.
2) Office Chairs, Trash Cans and Power Tools, Oh My! (2010)
Chicago, Illinois: And the award for least prepared fake dentist goes to Francisco Rendon, 49, who not only had his patients sit in a leather office chair instead of a reclining dentist’s chair and made them spit into a trash can instead of a sink, but he also operated on their teeth using an electronic metal polishing tool.
1) Son of a Bleach (2011)
Oakland, California: It’s a safe bet that Mario Alfredo Pacheco won’t win Dentist of the Year anytime soon. Even by unlicensed dentist standards, his strategy to give a patient a “Colgate smile” by grinding down her teeth down to nubs and then treating her infected gums with diluted bleach is pretty scandalous.