Parents accuse Burnsville dentist of overtreating their kids

A parent group is speaking out about a Burnsville dentist, alleging she performed unnecessary dental work for financial gain on children. But the dentist, Dr. Deanna Alevizos, says her approach heads off problems and finds hidden decay other dentists miss.

Spurred on by a Facebook group, at least 21 parents said they filed complaints with the Minnesota Board of Dentistry about Alevizos, a pediatric dentist of 22 years who practices at one of 49 Twin Cities Metro Dentalcare locations.

“If our investigation bears out, this is criminal,” said Tom Brock, an attorney for a dozen of the families.

Some parents said they have proof of trumped-up diagnoses. They cite the fact that other dentists they consulted for second opinions didn’t find as many cavities as Alevizos or recommend similar treatments.

Matt Looyen’s 4-year-old daughter went from a diagnosis by Alevizos of nine cavities requiring four crowns to just three cavities according to another dentist.

“There’s obviously a pattern and it’s a problem pattern,” said Looyen, whose wife helped start the Facebook group.

Alevizos said she is always thorough and follows American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry guidelines.

“I treat the way I would want my child treated,” she said. “I really care, and I want my patients to have restorations that last for them.”

Other parents said they had no quarrel with her diagnoses. Ten people, from dental hygienists to dentists and parents, wrote letters supporting Alevizos since she’s come under fire after several recent television news stories.

Dr. Hani Hamdan, a south metro dentist, called Alevizos’ dental work “top notch.” Many dentists choose to “err on the side of being aggressive,” treating small spots of decay rather than letting them grow, which can lead to bigger cavities, abscesses and tooth loss, Hamdan said.

Dental diagnoses aren’t always straightforward, some experts said, and there’s a range of options in every situation.

“It’s important to recognize that [decay] is a process, it’s not a light switch where you don’t have cavities and then you do,” said Dr. Jeff Karp, a pediatric dentist at the University of Minnesota. “You get into a definite clinical judgment-type of discussion.”

‘We’re not alone’

A Facebook group called “Speak out against Dr. Alevizos” has 88 members and more than 100 posts listing a range of complaints. Some said Alevizos asks parents to leave the exam room for their children’s checkups. Others said Alevizos recommends young children have work done under general anesthesia at the hospital, then asks parents’ permission to treat additional invented problems while the kids are unconscious. Most common are allegations that she treats nonexistent problems to make more money.

Jon Austin, a spokesman for Metro Dentalcare, said Alevizos’ compensation is based on the services she provides, but that her pay “is wholly within the range of her peers and appropriate.” She doesn’t earn any more for putting patients under anesthesia in the hospital, he said.

Alevizos denied her motivation is financial. She said it is instead what is best for the child.

Pediatric dentists are under a lot of pressure, Alevizos said, and parents sometimes get angry if a dentist doesn’t treat decay initially and it gets worse.

Alevizos likened the grooves on children’s teeth to wrinkles on a Shar-Pei dog; each can harbor bacteria. She performs a procedure called enameloplasty on children’s teeth, opening up the grooves to find hidden decay. She doesn’t charge to do it, she said.

Alevizos said she communicates all options, including doing nothing, to parents. Even so, several parents said they felt pressured to follow her recommendations.

Genevieve Cornish took both of her sons to Alevizos. While her son Devon was under anesthesia receiving crowns, Alevizos recommended performing a frenectomy — cutting the muscle connecting the tongue to the floor of the mouth — after diagnosing him as tongue-tied. Cornish was shocked because her son was so verbal.

When Alevizos said her younger son needed to have a cavity filled at the hospital, Cornish consulted another dentist, who said it wasn’t necessary.

Later, Cornish realized, “Oh my gosh, we’re not alone,” she said.

Harriet Greenlee-Herndon took her autistic son, Ravi, to Alevizos. Over five years, Alevizos put her son under general anesthesia four times, resulting in out-of-pocket costs of $2,000.

On a recent visit, Alevizos found extensive decay. Greenlee-Herndon said she then took Ravi to his former dentist, Dr. Daniel Glenn, who found no cavities.

“This woman preys on small children and the disabled,” said Greenlee-Herndon, who filed a Board of Dentistry complaint.

It wasn’t the first complaint filed against Alevizos.

Bridgett Anderson, the Board of Dentistry’s executive director, said she can’t confirm the existence of open complaints, but said Alevizos has had six in the past. None found wrongdoing or resulted in disciplinary action.

The board receives about 200 complaints annually and investigates each of them. From 2014 to 2017, 37 percent of complaints to the board involved allegations of substandard care, though the board doesn’t track how many complaints alleged unnecessary treatment, Anderson said.

Alevizos said none of the parents contacted her directly, instead turning to Facebook. Several of her defenders suggested that she was the victim of a social media witch hunt.

“Dr. Alevizos is a wonderful doctor,” said Jana Kidd, a dental hygienist who has worked with Alevizos. “Basically, guilty until proven innocent, but the fallout and damage will never be undone.”

Gov. Mark Dayton defended the work of the BCA on Friday, saying: "Impugning the quality of their investigations is destructive, and detrimental in our efforts to seek and obtain justice.”

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