Alvarez-Panabad said other patients have come into the clinic with dental work that doesn’t quite meet U.S. standards. In those cases, patients say they received dental care in their home countries, often in the Caribbean, or Central or South America.
“But even then, we’d never seen anything so severe from another country,” she said. “This was simply brutal, the way you might treat an animal. And you don’t even do this to animals.”
Pérez isn’t the only unlicensed dentist arrested recently by local authorities. Last week, for example, police arrested John Collazos, who they say operated a clandestine clinic in a Davie warehouse district.
In both cases, Florida Department of Health (DOH) investigators worked with local police. Ashley Carr, a DOH spokeswoman, asked that those who know of or suspect that somebody is offering dental or other health care services without a license report the cases to her agency.
In this current fiscal year, DOH investigators have looked into 37 cases of unlicensed dentistry. In the past five years, the agency has investigated between 42 and 142 cases each year.
It’s unclear what kind of dental training Pérez, 81, received in his home country, Cuba. He now faces nine felony charges ranging from child abuse to practicing without a license, and is out on bond while he awaits trial.
DePorter said this case highlights the need for the public to know there are affordable alternatives to unlicensed care. This year, Community Smiles will provide approximately 8,000 patient visits to low-income individuals who receive care at little to no cost, depending on their dental needs and financial means. The clinic is handling Agramonte’s daughter’s case pro bono.
“Our mission is to serve the underserved and everyone associated with Community Smiles is committed passionately to this cause,” he said. “We are here to help those who don’t have the financial means to seek dental care in private practice.”
Alvarez-Panabad recognized that it isn’t easy for foreign professionals to obtain the certification they need in order to practice in this country. But she said it’s unacceptable to do the work without a license.
In her own case, Alvarez-Panabad emigrated from Venezuela 15 years ago to marry. In the process, she left behind a burgeoning career as a dentist.
As the years passed in Miami, she took English courses and trained to be a dental assistant and hygienist. There were some personal interruptions – like having and raising her young daughter – that also delayed her dream. But finally last year, Alvarez-Panabad entered the post-doctoral residency program at Community Smiles.
“It’s taken me several years to get to this point but I think you end up putting more value into what’s been a challenge,” said Alvarez-Panabad, who next year will qualify to take the state board exams to practice dentistry in Florida. “My experience here has been incredible. I wake up each morning happy to come in.”