FLOYD COUNTY, Ga. - Five-year-old Somer Carter has straw-colored hair, round cheeks and bright eyes.
But she is hesitant to show people her smile because her teeth are covered in stainless steel.
“Every one of her teeth was capped, and she’s had three root canals,” mother Nicole Carter said.
Carter said it happened when she took her daughter, who was 1-and-a-half at the time, to Children’s Dentistry of Rome in Floyd County to see Dr. Maheshvar Patel. After the visit, Carter said Somer emerged crying and bruised.
“When I looked down, her mouth was just pouring blood. It was awful, and when I raised her lip up, everything was just hanging on top,” Carter said.
The Carters are one of a handful of families who have filed a malpractice lawsuit against Patel. In a response to the Carter lawsuit, Patel’s attorney denied that Patel caused any injuries or damages.
In 2012, Rome police and federal agents with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Service raided the Floyd County dentist office where Patel worked. The complaints against the office and Patel became so numerous that investigators hired a dental consultant to review the medical records. The District Attorney’s Office is still investigating the more than 50 complaints from parents claiming their children were mistreated.
Police say they immediately notified the Georgia Board of Dentistry about the criminal investigation. But the board didn’t take action until July of 2015, when it released a public reprimand.
The order cites several children Patel treated between 2010 and 2012, and said in 14 cases, he lacked “documentation to justify the treatment rendered.” The order also found Patel “used inappropriate or excessive restraints, and was overly forceful” in treating his minor patients.
For punishment Patel received probation for three years and an $11,500 fine.
“I don’t think he should be able to do dental work for the rest of his life. That is the way I see it,” said Jerry Carter, Somer’s father.
Channel 2 Action News found the case in a review of thousands of dentists who are licensed to practice in the state of Georgia. The investigation revealed the Georgia Board of Dentistry rarely revokes a dentist’s license. In the past decade, the board took action to revoke a license only six times. Of those cases, two stemmed from complaints about substandard treatment.
The Georgia Board of Dentistry says it gets about 400 complaints a year. So far this year, the board has disciplined 11 dentists because of substandard or unnecessary care. Most of the dentists received probation. The average time lapse between an incident that generated a complaint and board action is four years, according to the Channel 2 Action News review.
Dental malpractice attorney Robert Fleming said in his cases the dental board rarely, if ever, takes action.
“It’s hard to tell what the board is doing and not doing. As far as I can tell, it’s not a very transparent board,” Fleming said.
The chairman of the Georgia Board of Dentistry, Steve Holcomb, says all complaints are investigated.
“Once that information is entered in our database system, any complaint referencing our licensees, we immediately contact the dentist,” Holcomb said. He acknowledged the board only has one investigator, but said, “I don’t think we need more investigators.”
Issues with obtaining records from the dentist’s office also delay investigations, Holcomb said. He added that they can expedite the process if they think the dentist poses a public safety threat, but a Channel 2 Action News analysis found that rarely happened.
Later, in a written response, a board spokesman explained the average four-year time lag. “The patient could have filed their complaint the day after he/she saw the dentist, or the patient could have waited months or even years before filing the complaint,” Jeremy Areih wrote.
Nicole Carter, Somer’s mother, wonders why the investigation of Patel took so long. She says she called and emailed the board, and never heard anything.
“I’m disgusted. I really am,” Carter said.
When approached at his new dental office, Patel said he couldn’t comment about the pending lawsuits or the ongoing criminal investigation into the treatment of his patients in Floyd County. His attorney also declined to comment.
Patel left the area and opened a new office, Whitlock Avenue Dental, in Marietta, where he is currently practicing. Since Patel left Children’s Dentistry of Rome, police say there haven’t been any recent complaints.