HOUSTON Armed with tips and a undercover camera, the Houston Police Department s Major Offenders Division has been investigating and arresting people suspected of impersonating dentists.
During one undercover investigation detectives met Gilberto Ulloa. HPD captured Ulloa on video giving an examination and investigators said he offered to pull teeth and replace them for $1,500. He was arrested minutes later.
Outside in his driveway police boxed up the evidence that included dozen of dental tools that appeared to be un-sanitized.
In the last several weeks KHOU 11 News tagged along with investigators targeting nearly a dozen suspects. All of them were charged with practicing medicine without a license.
One of them was Julio Contento. Inside his apartment police said they found an entire dental office set up in the living room. He had dozens of tools, an air compressor and unfinished molds for patients he was allegedly treating.
In these tough times, many people with no health insurance can t find affordable dental care and that s why this phony dentistry is on the rise.
In Harris County low-cost service is available, but you must apply for it first through the county. We learned, after you apply, quick appointments are hard to come by. Many uninsured people who are in extreme pain end up going to hospital emergency rooms only to find out there are no dentists there.
The need for care is so great that some people waited in line all night recently to receive free dental care in Pasadena. The event was called Dentistry From the Heart.
By dawn, nearly 200 people registered hoping to be seen by one of just five dentists and their staff who volunteered their time.
When my husband died I lost everything and I had to start over. I had no idea how difficult it was to get health insurance, Trish Perry said. Perry had come to the free event seeking help with her teeth.
Her story was just one of many we heard from all kinds of people who ve fallen on hard times.
A large tent was the waiting room where the old and young were evaluated.
A lot of people said I ve waited to get this fixed for two years, said Dr. Kimber Homes.
Homes is a hero among the villains who prey on people in need.
Oh sweet girl, that s an infection on your gum around a crowded tooth, Homes told one patient.
After each exam was done under the tent the patients were sent inside to see the other dentists. There was also an oral surgeon on hand. One patient had his wisdom teeth taken out, but events like this are very rare.
That s why the black market dental trade is thriving here feeding on the demand for care.