Igor Mojzes / Dreamstime.com
A dental practice in Pennsylvania has a novel method for guaranteeing return business: Threaten to turn parents in for neglect if they stop bringing in their kids.
Smiles 4 Keeps, which has three offices in the state, insists that its threats are being misinterpreted. But the letter it sent out is pretty clear: Get your kids back in here.
Mom Trey Hoyumpa did not like the treatment she and her kids got at the Smiles 4 Keeps location in Bartonville, Pennsylvania. In a Facebook post she claims that the practice wouldn’t let her go into the patient area with her children, wouldn’t let her meet with the dentist, and diagnosed but wouldn’t treat more than one of her children on her visit. She decided not to go back. A few months letter she received this letter:
The letter says that neglecting a child’s dental care can be considered child abuse in Pennsylvania and that dental providers are required to report it to the state. It notes that the dental office has not yet reported the parent, but she should schedule an appointment to have her children seen ASAP or else.
The letter concludes: "To keep your child as healthy as possible and to avoid a report to state authorities, please call Smiles 4 Keeps immediately to schedule an appointment." This is obviously going to be perceived as a threat.
Pennsylvania does indeed require that dental offices report to child welfare agencies any signs of abuse or neglect. But not taking your child to Smiles 4 Keeps isn’t evidence of neglect.
When Local media and Yahoo Lifestyle started probing back, the dental clinic told them that letters aren’t sent until multiple attempts have been made to communicate with the family, and that if parents seek business with a different dentist they should let them know. Hoyumpa told Yahoo that she has absolutely no interest in communicating with the clinic any further and and that she’s looking for a second opinion. (She doesn’t trust their claim that her two children had several cavities, and she says they refused to show her the X-rays.)
Remarkably, Ross Wezmar, the dentist who founded the practice, defended his letters on Monday, insisting that he regular sees children with all sorts of medical problems because they missed a dental appointment.
Color me suspicious, but that’s not the point. Smiles 4 Keeps is a private business providing a service, not a government agency. Neither Hoyumpa nor any other consumer has any obligation to communicate with Smiles 4 Keeps or to set foot in its offices if she doesn’t want to, and she is not required to tell them why or where they’ve gone instead. Yet Wezmar and his offices are threatening families with government investigations for declining to do business with him.
I doubt lawmakers intended the reporting requirements to be used this way, but it’s one of the side effects of mandating that private actors play tattletale to the government. Does he even care that he could upend families’ lives by reporting them to the state?
It’s bad enough that abuse fears have led some hotels and airlines to start calling the authorities simply for seeing an adult (usually male) traveling with a child (usually his). Citing this law to try to scare parents into patronizing your business is pretty damned low.
Fortunately, since Smiles 4 Keeps is a private business and not a government agency, the market can decide if it agrees with Wezmar’s tactics. I suspect a business that treats its customers well doesn’t have to threaten them to get them to come back again. But that’s just me.