• Action 9 investigates Aspen Dental's 'free exams'


    LAKE COUNTY, Fla. - A Lake County woman claims a major dental chain wanted to collect a few thousand dollars for some treatments she didn't need.

    Action 9's Todd Ulrich found many other consumers have claimed the company's offer for a free exam can really end up costing them.

    Cheryl Gifford had a cracked tooth and expected to pay something at the Aspen Dental clinic in Mt. Dora.

    Gifford said she was blown away when the dentist handed her a $3,700 treatment plan to fix her tooth and treat gum disease. She claims the clinic wanted to get her signed up that day.

    "And then it was like, 'You really need to get this done now,'" Gifford said.

    Gifford said she questioned all the periodontal work since she routinely had her teeth cleaned. After insurance, she would have owed $1,800 and told the clinic she couldn't afford it.

    According to Gifford, the clinic said it could all be financed.

    "They had a finance program they could put me into and I could get signed up right now," she said.

    Aspen Dental is a nationwide chain with 340 offices and also has 935 complaints at the Better Business Bureau. Nine of those complaints came from local patients.

    Many complaints involved services, billing practices and patients who claimed the treatment plan was not clear.

    Action 9 sent a WFTV employee to Aspen Dental in Mt. Dora for its advertised free consultation. Our dental expert had found she had healthy teeth and gums, except for a wisdom teeth issue.

    At Aspen's clinic, the dentist told our employee, Chantal Lamberth, she needed two cavities filled and a cleaning that totaled $665.

    After discounts, she would have owed nearly $400, but that's not all: Lamberth said the clinic wanted to do more treatment, soon.

    "They put me on filling watch, because in six months, there were two more teeth that would need to be filled," she said.

    According to Lamberth, a dental hygienist at the clinic said she didn't need a cleaning but since her form showed it was a year since her last cleaning, the dentist recommended it.

    Action 9's expert was former Orange County Dental Society Chairman Dr. Brian Coleman. He told Action 9 Lamberth didn't have any decay that needed to be treated, and filling any teeth was not necessary.

    In a statement to Action 9, Aspen said its clinics had excellent patient satisfaction scores that are tracked daily and the local offices have treated thousands of patients.

    Aspen also said competing dentists may have different opinions but its doctors recommend what is right for the patient. The company said it is working with the Better Business Bureau to improve responses to the complaints that are filed and it had a B-plus rating at the BBB.

    Gibbons turned down Aspen's treatment plan and said and her new dentist found the gum procedures were not necessary.

    "I'm just glad I said no," she said.

    Aspen had been sued by the state of Pennsylvania over its treatment plans. The company settled a lawsuit with the Pennsylvania state attorney general in 2010 and agreed to disclose all treatment fees and interest rates.


    Aspen Dental Follow-Up:

    Dear Todd,

    Thanks again for the opportunity to provide context and comments in response to the patient issues you’re examining, and for your patience in giving the practice owners time to respond to your inquiry. Patient satisfaction is the number one concern of every dentist at Aspen Dental. We take this issue incredibly seriously, so it’s disappointing to hear that even one patient is unhappy.

    Along with their teams, the dentists who own and operate the Aspen Dental practices in Mount Dora, Merritt Island, and Lady Lake have collectively seen more than 7,900 patients this year. All three offices have excellent patient satisfaction scores, which are tracked and measured on a daily basis. And on a personal note, these dentists are some of the most caring, hard-working advocates for their patients that you’ll ever meet.

    We don’t want to be dismissive of any issues that have been raised. In fact, we go to great lengths to resolve every patient concern:

    • We have a robust process in place to resolve patient concerns, including a dedicated Patient Satisfaction team for those times when a patient who visits Aspen Dental has an issue that cannot be resolved directly with the office that he or she visited.
    • We have an ongoing dialogue with the Better Business Bureau about our efforts to improve our response to any issues that arise. We respond to every complaint filed, and we close those inquiries in an average of just over three days, well below the required timeframe.
    • We also continually listen to comments made in online and social media to identify patient issues, and proactively reach out to patients who we identify to resolve any concerns.

    I hope that the investigation you’re working on does not damage the reputation of these committed, caring professionals based on differing opinions from a competing dentist. It’s important to understand  that different dentists will see a patient and make different clinical assessments and treatment recommendations, but that’s not with any ill intent or desire to do anything other than what that doctor believes is right for the patient at the time.


    Statement from Dr. Paul Pimentel

    Aspen Dental Practice Owner, Lady Lake, FL

    On a professional level, it’s incredibly disappointing to learn that a patient is unhappy with their experience at my practice. I am proud of the care that my team and I deliver every day, and feel fortunate to be able to provide much-needed dental care to thousands of patients who live and work in the Lady Lake community.

    While HIPPA prevents me from going into specifics about this patient’s care, I have reviewed the patient’s records and stand by the diagnosis and treatment plan that I outlined.

    My goal is to help my patients achieve good oral health by giving them the care that they need.


    Statement from Dr. Jere Gillan

    Aspen Dental Practice Owner, Merritt Island, FL

    I’m very sorry to hear that this particular patient wasn’t happy with the care and service she received at my practice. I cannot comment due to patient privacy regulations, but I reviewed the patient’s chart and believe that the diagnosis and course of treatment that I recommended was the right one.

    When I diagnose a patient, I am following my oath as a dentist and treating their immediate need while also recommending treatment that helps the patient avoid any significant recurring issues down the road. I strive to do what is right for the patient above all else, and business success does not dictate my clinical decisions.

    Prior to my practicing dentistry at Aspen Dental and owning my own practice, I spent over a decade in the U.S. military, which cemented the core values that are an integral part of my everyday life. Dentistry is my calling, and I am committed to taking care of the people in this community.

    I’d invite this patient, just as I would any patient who is unsure about the treatment plan that I recommended, to come back to my practice to discuss her concerns with me directly.

    Thank you,

    Dr. Jere Gillan

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