Happier days are nowhere for children who were abused as patients of the Small Smiles dental clinics. After years of battling in court, the Small Smiles claims finally secured a global settlement of $43 million, bringing closure to thousands of families across the United States.
With locations nationwide as well as in Toledo, Small Smiles dental centers specialized in pediatric dentistry and were one of the few dental firms that accepted Medicaid insurance.
But instead of helping children and families who could not afford private dental insurance, Small Smiles dentists took advantage of the kids by performing unnecessary treatment in order to fraudulently bill Medicaid and make more money. An FBI investigation found that Small Smiles dentists nationwide were drilling and filling cavities that never existed, performing painful root canals and other dental procedures without any local anesthesia or “laughing gas”, strapping down children’s arms and legs so that they could not move during the procedures, and refusing to stop treatment or soothe the children even after they urinated and vomited on themselves, all in the name of corporate profit.
Children are the most vulnerable of us all – they depend on adults to care, provide, and protect them.
The dentists would not allow parents to accompany their kids during treatment, even after repeated requests, rarely did they ask parents’ permission before beginning the dental work, and they would often threaten to call Child Services when parents would object to the excessive or unnecessary treatment.
A select group of highly skilled attorneys from across the country spearheaded an effort that finally led them to being able to secure the payment of more than $43 million from Small Smile’s insurers.
That group included one of our own attorneys, Wes Merillat, who was one of three attorneys selected and appointed by the Federal Court to oversee the litigation, negotiation, and settlement with Small Smile’s insurers.
Pursuant to court order, the settlement has been placed into a Trust Account for the more than 3,000 children nationwide who had qualifying claims against the dental chain.
We took on more than 500 child dental injury cases on behalf of kids from across the country. Since the settlement money will be put into trusts until the kids turn 18, our hope is that the awards will allow them to pay for college, create savings accounts, and get a head start on adulthood.
When we took on this litigation, we encountered barrier after barrier after barrier. Clinics moved. Doctors left the state. Small Smiles tried to throw us out of court multiple times. They finally filed bankruptcy. Then we were left to chase down insurance coverage by locating and fighting Small Smiles’ insurance companies.
For six years, we dedicated ourselves to exhausting every avenue and committed ourselves to busting through every barrier. At the end of the day, what we were able to recover, particularly given the bankruptcy, was significant – very significant.
However, while it does give these children something, it does not fix the trauma they suffered. The lasting tragedy of this case is that many of these children suffered permanent damage and many will never go back to a dentist again.
“It was a flagrant abuse of power,” Wes said. “Children are the most vulnerable of us all – they depend on adults to care, provide, and protect them. Purposely hurting and abusing children for profit is a tragedy that ought to infuriate everyone to action.”
Throughout this month’s issue of the Boyk Bulletin are stories of the kids who overcame the abuse they endured at the hands of dentists and where their families are today. It is important to note that many of the children photographed smile without showing their teeth, which is an aftereffect of how poorly they were treated at Small Smiles.