HOUSTON – If you would like to know more about a Texas dentist before you trust him or her with your teeth, you are out of luck. Because -- unlike other doctors -- records detailing patient complaints and disciplinary action against dentists are not available.
Pam Grunwald said she had dental implants put in more than four years ago and has been living a nightmare ever since. The San Antonio resident said more than two dentists performed bad dental work on her and she has written about her experience on her website: www.dentalnightmare.net.
It is not easy to look at photographs taken of the inside of Grunwald's mouth. But she hopes people will take the time to check them out.
"That's my goal. I don't want what happened to me to happen to anybody else," she said.
Grunwald, we have discovered, is one of a growing number of people who are upset with the Texas State Board of Dental Examiners.
"Everything needs to come out and there needs to be changes," Grunwald said.
On her website, she shows the pictures taken of her mouth. She tells the story about an infection that she believes could have killed her. She said it went undetected and improperly treated.
"If you can't tell there was something wrong with my face, well you were crazy," said Grunwald.
After she said she spent thousands of dollars trying to correct the issues and eliminate the pain, Grunwald took her complaint to the dental board. She said she fully expected the dentists who worked on her to be punished.
She said she sent them a detailed complaint, which included a file of documents an inch thick.
"I did it all in a huge lovely file," Grunwald said.
But several weeks later, the case was closed. No disciplinary action would be taken against the dentists, because the dental board said Grunwald did not give them enough information.
"It was devastating," she said.
Dr. Mark Stankowitz is a board-certified dentist in Houston and a member of a group called Texans for Dental Reform. He reviewed Grunwald's complaint, and several others, and said the dental board more often than not looks the other way. He said Grunwald had plenty of information for a judgment to be made.
"I think the problem is the state board, in terms of standard of care, treats some doctors harshly and some doctors gently. It depends on who you know. It is a good- old-boy network," Stankowitz said.
Stankowitz said when rare disciplinary action is handed down, the board makes it difficult for patients to learn what the actual punishment is and what it was for.
Shopping and evaluating a dentist is not easy, he said.
"It's been two years since they received $600,000 from the state to implement a new computer system so that any patient can go on their website and evaluate a dentist," Stankowitz said.
Houstonian Gwen Mitchell, who chairs the group Texans for Dental Reform, said she was told the online system would be up and running in August of 2010.
"Every day I am becoming more and more convinced that there is something they are just trying to hide. Maybe they are trying to hide the bad players. So we believe there needs to be some type of investigation done," Mitchell said.
The group is pushing lawmakers for a hearing. They want transparency now, noting that the Texas Medical Board -- and even the Texas Veterinary Board -- provide easy online access to disciplinary actions.
"All we want is the same treatment as the dogs get. If you go to the vet board you can find every record and violation and what they were fined. Not with the State Dental Board," Grunwald said.
And until there are changes, Grunwald told 11 News she will keep spreading her story to anyone who will listen. She and her husband, Buster, have the pictures of the inside of her mouth plastered all over their SUV because they want everyone to know about their dental nightmare.
The Texas State Board of Dental Examiners was open with us and said its old computer system was so antiquated that moving data has taken longer than expected. The agency said it hopes the website will be up and running by the end of this month.
As for bad dentists not getting punished, the state dental board denies the accusation and states it treats all dentist investigations equally.