This latest scandal, affecting branches of the national chain iDental, comes just months after the closure of Funnydent leaving over 2,400 customers high and dry across the country.
Reports being investigated by the regional government of Valencia claim poor sterilisation of dental instruments and out-of-date material, uncovered following inspections of a branch in Alfafar and on Valencia’s C/ Mariano Cuber, may have caused the alleged Hepatitis C outbreak.
Regional health authorities are considering whether or not to call for blood tests for all known customers and are weighing up the possibility of holding meetings with those who may be affected either financially or in terms of their health, or both.
Over April and May, a total of 24 iDental branches shut down without warning, leaving over 350,000 patients nationwide with their treatment incomplete and money invested – much of it acquired on credit – vanished overnight.
And as iDental advertised itself as a ‘low-cost’ company whose aim was to make dental treatment affordable for even the lowest budget, the typical profile of its clients mean they are unable to pay for theirs to be completed.
Some have been left with screws in their gums instead of teeth, and others report treatment carried out so badly they now have severe complications which may even be irreversible.
Cases uncovered among iDental customers in Madrid include a woman whose nose and upper jaw are joined together because of botched surgery, another who discovered her crowns were made from resin, one who has been on strong antibiotics for months because of an ongoing infection, and another with an abscess in her mouth that is causing her stomach pains and has led to several visits to A&E.
All of these customers are hundreds or thousands of euros out of pocket.
Óscar Castro of the General Dentists’ Council and Antonio Montero of the Madrid College of Odontologists say iDental led customers to believe their treatments and implants were cheap by firstly giving an excessively inflated price and then offering discounts of up to 95% in the form of ‘financial assistance’, usually offering credit for the remaining sum.
“If they’re trying to sell you an implant with a crown for €500, warning bells should start to ring,” says Castro.
He and Montero have warned of clinics using inferior, unbranded material and charging top prices, which they then offer discounts towards.
Castro and Montero say the ‘low-cost dentist boom’, which has led to clinics going into receivership and patients and staff bearing the cost, means the profession has become commercialised and unregulated practitioners are slipping through the net.
“Nobody chooses a dentist for his or her experience, only on price – this would never happen with a cardiologist, for example – and the clinics which have shut down operated like an electronics store or a car dealership; they didn’t have public liability or professional indemnity insurance either,” Castro warns.
“The problem is not the clinics themselves, it’s the business they’ve created. The owner should always be a professional odontologist, not an investment fund as was the case with iDental, Vitaldent and Dentix.
“Legislation needs to change, because at the moment, practically anyone, whether or not they are an odontologist, whether or not they have any professional skills or knowledge, can set up a dental clinic.”