Investigation reveals dental board’s lack of transparency

Mary Otto

About Mary Otto

Mary Otto, a Washington, D.C.-based freelancer, is AHCJ's topic leader on oral health and the author of "Teeth: The Story of Beauty, Inequality, and the Struggle for Oral Health in America." She can be reached at mary@healthjournalism.org.

Image by SalFlako via flickr.

Image by SalFlako via flickr.

How transparent is your state dental board when it comes to helping patients find out more about their dentists?

In Arizona, the state board of dental examiners has taken actions against hundreds of dentists in recent years. But it can be difficult for a patient in the state to find out if his or her dentist has been in trouble.

Linda Holt started worrying about the quality of her dental care after suffering complications from an implant procedure, Phoenix-based ABC-15 television explained in one part of a recent investigative series.

But if she had checked the profile of her dentist, Glenn Featherman, on the Arizona Board of Dental Examiner’s website she would not have been able to tell that he had recently been cited by the board for problems that arose with an implant procedure he performed on another patient.

After considering the earlier case, the board had ordered Featherman to get six hours of continuing education in “implant treatment planning,” ABC-15 found. But because the ruling was considered a “non-disciplinary” action, it was never posted on the board’s website.

“When the Arizona Board of Dental Examiners punishes a dental professional, the board can hand out two kinds of actions – disciplinary or non-disciplinary,” Dave Biscobing and Shawn Martin reported in their multipart project that aired earlier this month. Most of the board’s actions fall into the latter category and as a result, they are “essentially hidden from the public,” the investigative team concluded.

The non-disciplinary actions are supposed to address minor problems and issues.

“But in 2014, state auditors questioned if the dental board is using them too often, allowing dental professionals to get off easy,” the team found.

After filing a public records request for every dental board action in the past five years, the ABC-15 team found evidence of more serious problems among some of the 282 non-disciplinary actions that were turned over. Some raised concerns about quality of care and malpractice and others, about dentists accused of or indicted for fraud or facing problems with prescriptions, drugs or alcohol, according to the report.

In another twist, Arizona dentists are among the few health care professionals who are not required to undergo a background check before obtaining a license to work in the state. Some dentists practicing in the state have lost their licenses in other places or have criminal backgrounds that include drug offenses and sex crimes. But again, it can be difficult for patients to find out about these problems, ABC-15 reported.

“There’s more that Arizona’s dental board knew about Dr. Featherman that Linda Holt did not,” the team noted. “He’s also a convicted felon.”

“For years while practicing in Pennsylvania, Dr. Featherman had patients and staff fill painkiller prescriptions for him to fuel a drug addiction, records show.

“In 2013, he pled guilty to 86 counts,” the ABC15 report concluded.

And, as the story noted, “there’s more.”

After her implant troubles with Featherman, Holt turned to another dentist in the same office for help with the work.

“His name was Dr. Thomas Endicott. He’s also a felon.”

Endicott lost his license in Michigan and Illinois before coming to Arizona to practice, ABC15 reported.

“He’s been convicted of fraud, unlawful delivery of a controlled substance and criminal sexual misconduct, records show.”

Holt first filed a complaint against Featherman. Now she is suing him. And when the patient was informed of Endicott’s criminal background as part of the news report she reacted with disgust.

“Criminal sexual conduct? Controlled substance? And Arizona is allowing him to put his fingers in my mouth? Oh shame on Arizona.”

Featherman and a dental board official issued statements but declined interviews with ABC-15.

Endicott offered the following quote in a telephone interview for the story.

“I believe all men should have a second chance,” he said. “We as a human race have a responsibility to forgive.”

As part of the package ABC15 obtained and posted the dental board’s disciplinary and non-disciplinary actions from 2010 through 2014. Under the headline “Does your dentist have hidden discipline?” the station invited viewers to check to see if their dentists have been the subject of state board actions.

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