MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Taking a child to the dentist can be stressful enough, but one Twin Cities dentist is accused of doing unnecessary dental work on kids to cash in.
Dr. Deanna Alevizos has been a licensed dentist in Minnesota for more than 20 years.READ MORE: COVID In Minnesota: 13 Deaths, 1,611 Cases Reported; Hospitalizations Continue To Spike
Her practice in Burnsville is under the microscope after a recent Facebook post.
WCCO explains what parents are questioning, and why the definition of a cavity is not always as simple as it seems.
The Looyens have made brushing part of the routine twice a day with their two girls.
“Your typical dental hygiene routine with a 4 year old, and she does pretty well,” Marina Looyen said.
So when it was time for 4-year-old Ella’s annual trip to the dentist in July, they again never suspected much trouble.
An insurance change put Ella in Dr. Deanna Alevizos’s dental chair at Metro Dentalcare in Burnsville.
“She got her teeth cleaned, everything was fine,” Marina said.
That’s when Ella’s mom says Dr. Alevizos walked in to deliver the bad news: Her daugher had nine cavities, and four needed crowns.
“I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, there’s no way that she could have nine cavities!'” Marina said.
The doctor suggested they do the procedure at the hospital so Ella would be under general anesthesia.
Marina didn’t feel comfortable with that setup, and called her husband in confusion.
“[Marina said] ‘No more candy, no more sweets. We got to make sure she brushes every night and every morning,’ and I’m like, ‘We already do!'” said Matt Looyen, Ella’s father.
Marina had gone to school to be a dental assistant. She decided a second opinion would be best.
That dentist saw things much differently.
“He retook her X-rays and looked in her mouth, and he looked at me and he’s like, ‘No Marina … she’s got three cavities and one of them is a watch,'” she said. “‘They’re tiny cavities I can fix without even Novocain.”
That dentist pointed to tiny cavities on three teeth; two on the top and one on the bottom. He said the other six were fine and none needed anything close to a crown.
It was a $717 treatment plan versus Dr. Alevizos’ $2,900 bill.
“Would they have drilled into the safe teeth, or would they just have not treated them?” Matt said. “Which either on a 4 year old is ridiculous.”
The findings sent Marina to Facebook, where she posted the story to a south metro moms’ group page.
“I couldn’t believe my phone was just going off and off and off,” Marina said.
Other parents soon shared dozens of similar complaints about Dr. Alevizos’ expensive treatment plans.
“There’s 121 posts,” Marina said.
Courtney Lamprecht’s six-year-old, Charlee, got a clean bill of health by a different dentist less than a year ago. That changed in August in Dr. Alevizos’ chair.
“We then found out she needed four fillings and six crowns,” Lamprecht said.READ MORE: Man, 19, Identified As Victim In Fatal North Minneapolis Shooting
Ten cavities in all. Again, Alevizos recommended general anesthesia and a hospital trip.
“My husband was giving me the eyes of, ‘We’re getting a second opinion [laughs]!” Lamprecht said.
That second opinion from a different dentist detected four cavities in Charlee’s mouth — six fewer than Alevizos found.
In both girls’ cases, the dentists who gave second opinions told us Alevizos’ count simply didn’t add up.
“Something wrong is happening there. Something isn’t right that there’s such a difference in opinions,” Lamprecht said.
WCCO tried for weeks to ask Dr. Alevizos about these cases. She never returned our calls. Finally, someone working at the office told us the clinic would have no comment.
Before these latest complaints, the Minnesota Board of Dentistry investigated six complaints against Dr. Alevizos dating back to 2001. The state never found any wrongdoing, so she was not disciplined, and the details cannot be disclosed.
Dr. Teresa Fong has been a pediatric dentist for more than 30 years.
“There really has to be trust. You need to trust your providers,” Fong said.
While she would not publicly scrutinize another doctor’s care, she did want to explain how parents can handle such situations.
“If you get two very different opinions, then you do want to question, you know, well exactly where do you see these cavities? And can you show me on an X-ray where these cavities are?” Fong said.
In one case she demonstrated, Dr. Fong points to a large hole on one tooth and a dark spot reflecting another. She says four cavities are visible.
“Then when we restore this tooth, we’ll check the side of the other tooth,” Fong said.
This means there could be five cavities in total.
“It’s in between the teeth where the teeth touch together, that’s a place where you can’t see in between the teeth, so the X-ray is really important to show you those areas,” she said.
Dr. Fong says it is possible dentists could see and treat things differently on one or two teeth.
What’s happening at home also plays a role. Do kids brush and floss? What do they eat and drink most? Depending on those answers, some dentists will clean the spot and watch it for changes, while others will want to restore the surface right away with sealant or a filling.
“There is gray area, and that’s where your training comes in,” she said.
But Dr. Fong believes most dentists are on the same page, and the American Dental Association tells dentists to avoid drilling unless absolutely necessary.
So would a dentist ever fill a cavity if there wasn’t one?
“I would hope that that doesn’t happen, and that’s probably the most I can say,” Fong said.
As the Looyens await the results of their complaint with the state, they want to send a warning before more little patients open wide.
“How many more people does she see that are not in this group, that are not aware of this?” Marina said.
“And how many people just go with the flow and just believe what she has to say, never knowing any different?” Matt said.
Dr. Alevizos works for an association. Under that business model, dentists like her are typically paid on commission. But she would not answer WCCO’s questions, so we do not know for sure.MORE NEWS: AG Merrick Garland Announces Probe Into Minneapolis Police Practices