Underground Dentists Thriving in Toronto

Published: June 11th 2010
in News » Local

A dentist.
Pic: file photo

An investigation by the Toronto Star has revealed what they are calling a “cottage industry” of illegal and many times unsafe dental practices servicing immigrant communities throughout Ontario, and especially in the Toronto area.


These unlicensed dentists work out of basements and small windowless rooms in homes, using out of date tools that are not properly sterilized. They offer substandard dental work for bargain basement prices to a clientele of mostly new immigrant from their communities who cannot afford standard dental fees and do not expect a high level of service.


The investigation found that many immigrant patients of these dentists say that unlicensed home dentistry was the norm in their countries and they don’t have expectations for higher quality care in Canada. Some also go for the cheapest available dental service, regardless of the qualifications of the practitioner, because they do not have the ability to pay more.


Furthermore, the Star learned that it is rare for anyone to voice complaints; and those who do are worried about the ramifications of ratting out members of their community.


The Royal College of Dental Surgeons of Ontario, the watchdog that oversees dentists in the province, is doing its best but having difficulty fighting underground dentistry, even after mounting a seven-year $1 million takedown. They have so far closed down 42 illegal dentists. But others have appeared in their place.


A recent Health Canada report found that 32 per cent of Canadians, generally those with low incomes, do not have dental insurance, with a further 17 per cent of Canadians avoiding seeing a licensed dentist in the past year because they could not afford to do so.


The college warns that subpar work by fake dentists can cause infections and other serious consequences, including HIV and blood-borne diseases passed on from unsterile dental tools and syringes.


The college is only mandated to regulate licensed dentists and not keep a watch on basement practitioners. However, in 2003 after receiving a surge of complaints, the regulatory body began a crackdown using undercover inspectors. So far, the college has received 42 court injunctions to shut down fake dentists.


Unfortunately, the regulatory body told the Star that this is only the “tip of an iceberg,” saying it suspects there are hundreds of others across the country.


In one case mentioned by the Star, Peter Krichevksy, who immigrated to Toronto from Poland 10 years ago, went to see an unlicensed dentist named Yosef Istzer. The damage caused by Istzer has resulted in Krichevsky having to shell out $50,000 over the last four years to fix his mouth. A real dentist is now working to pull all of Krichevsky’s teeth and replace them with dental implants.


The 65-year old Istzer, who is a licensed denturist, refused to be quoted in the Star. His wife Shira denied that her husband was working as a dentist in their basement even though she admitted that he kept a dentist’s chair and tools in their home.


Unlicensed dentists have come to Canada from many different countries, including Russia, Lebanon, Colombia, Africa and Southeast Asia. They generally perform their services in windowless basements.


Related articles: (dentist, dental college, russian community, immigrants)
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