How do I get an orthodontist to stop ghosting us?
March 1, 2021 6:52 AM   Subscribe

So the kid has had braces on for over 2.5 years now. We were supposed to be done six months ago. But that timeline has come and gone and the orthodontist, who was supposed to be in charge of all of this, has semi-retired and doesn't return our calls or requests to contact us. Even our family dentist is shaking his head. How do we close this out? More details inside.

The longer story is that we signed up with Mr. Fabulous, a local orthodontist that came with great reviews from everyone we knew. Great chairside manner, kick-ass office with video games and TVs, easy location, and lots of happy kids with nice outcomes.

My son's case wasn't the easiest. Possibly a phantom tooth, maybe he needed extractions, maybe a temporary anchor (ouch), lots of different ideas about how to do things. We got a treatment plan started and he was going in for adjustments and review every 10 weeks, which was odd to me since when I was a kid I saw my ortho every 2 weeks. But, okay, things are nifty and modern and they know what they are doing.

In the meantime, Mr Fabulous sold his practice to a national chain of orthodontists, Smile Doctors. The office got a revamp and new sign out front but we were told that Fabulous wasn't going anywhere. Treatment was still supposed to wrap up in November 2020. But there were also increasing problems. For example, questions and appointment requests went through a call center 6 states away now. Of course they don't know my kid and the doctor isn't in the room with the person taking the call. Messages get generated and passed, but it's hard to get an answer to anything.

November comes and goes and our family dentist asks "so, what's he doing here? It looks like he's nowhere near done and what is his plan for this missing tooth, among the rest of the show?" We have no idea. It's not like we've been getting any treatment plan updates. We just sent him in every 10 weeks and adjustments were made. COVID obviously didn't help either, we sent him in alone and the kid came out with an appointment card for the next visit.

So the goal here is just to pin Fabulous down and ask him what he thinks should happen and when can it be completed. The problem is that he's never in the office. When we ask for a meeting he's always "away" or "on vacation for two weeks". Even messages from the family dentist, who is a well known figure in town and works less than a block away, go unanswered. Dentist is frustrated by the situation and has privately admitted they don't refer patients to Fabulous any more.

A compounding factor is that we are already paid up. I had an FSA to empty back in 2019 so it all went to Fabulous and we zeroed out the balance. So I have no leverage about withholding payment. I've already put my other child with a different orthodontist in town and they mentioned that they currently aren't taking existing patients from other practices at the moment. So I don't have that option right now. Big mistake.

I realize part of this is our fault for not asking for updates every 4 to 6 months and understand where things were going. But I also trusted that a provider like this, who got a few thousand dollars up front, would be good at communicating progress and direction. Another big mistake in making that assumption.

My primary question is: how do I get this chump to answer a call or show up at the office to meet with us and consult? Is there a magic phrase I say? Do I lawyer up? Perhaps call the state office of professional regulation and make a complaint? If any of you have been through this I could use your help. Thanks!
posted by JoeZydeco to Health & Fitness (14 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Best answer: It sounds like something is seriously wrong with Fabulous. You need a second opinion right away. Since your other child is seeing a new ortho, they should make space for your other kid. If they don’t, they should lose your business. I think you should call a lawyer as well as whatever is the licensing authority for dentists/orthos in your state. Send a message today to the state AG. The purchasing business is not behaving ethically here either.
posted by amanda at 7:04 AM on March 1, 2021 [20 favorites]

Best answer: is there some reason that it HAS to be Fabulous who continues the treatment? I mean, what if Fabulous had died?

I think you should assume that Fabulous can't or won't do it, and call around to the other orthos in town, explain this is an emergency (i.e. you're not some fussy parent who just doesn't like your prior ortho! Fabulous is unavailable and your kid is already overdue for the next phase of treatment) and just get your kid in to see someone else ASAP.

I also bet that if you told your other kid's ortho that this is an emergency and not just a preference, they'd make an exception, esp since you are already a client.

I understand this sucks since you paid already, but this is your kid's mouth. And it looks like Fabulous is not happening.
posted by fingersandtoes at 7:19 AM on March 1, 2021 [9 favorites]

I'd say time to scream at his franchise call center and demand a different orthodontist in the same town if F won't answer you.

And if necessary, time to call your local TV station's consumer ombudsman to negotiate on your behalf. Often the threat of bad publicity will light a fire under their... behinds. Because you want treatment for your son, and if you can't get it from F, you want an alternative... or a refund.

I'll bet you they can't give you a refund, and just to prevent this from blowing up in their face they'll pay some other orthodontist in town to do it.

I'd suggest gather up all the paperwork you got ASAP in prep for this.

Though there's possibly a way... the Franchise may be able to claim stuff paid to F is not their responsibility. But as long as you paid AFTER he joined up, they probably would have a hard time claiming that.

Good luck!
posted by kschang at 7:30 AM on March 1, 2021 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Lawyer time, I'm afraid. Time for advice from a couple of lawyers. Just call a couple of them in your area that specialize in medical malpractice (which I think this is).

Harm is being done to your son. This is Not OK.

You can maybe give the practice and/or the Smile Doctors national office one more chance by trying to call them and talking to a human, and giving them 24 hours to respond with a plan and one or more scheduled appointments. If you can't get through to a human, though, get seriously serious on them.
posted by amtho at 7:31 AM on March 1, 2021 [16 favorites]

Did you pre-pay for these services? If yes, use small claims court to recover some money to take elsewhere.
posted by theora55 at 7:35 AM on March 1, 2021 [5 favorites]

2.5 years is an awfully long time and if your kid is an older teen they could be losing some of the ideal window to get this done while their bones are at their most elastic, this can't wait until puberty is finished. I would absolutely pursue action against this ortho's practice with the state licensing body to report them, and pursue the acquiring company for a refund (they didn't hold up their agreement to complete treatment and no one would say a car mechanic who forgot to put in a new filter was owed the full price of the oil change without paying for damages, this is no different and you could look into small claims if you continue to get nowhere with the company). In the mean time you need to get kid in a chair with someone competent ASAP no matter who it is so kid doesn't get worse - at this point I would not trust this guy to finish the treatment without a second opinion if it were my mouth.
posted by slow graffiti at 7:36 AM on March 1, 2021 [13 favorites]

Best answer: If Fabulous is actually still seeing your child, then I would show up at their next appointment even if Covid says only patient. Go in and ask to see Fabulous. He cannot hide if he is there. They say he is busy with patients, you say that is ok we will wait or we will see him with our child.
posted by AugustWest at 8:57 AM on March 1, 2021 [5 favorites]

Did you pre-pay for these services?

Its buried a little ways down the post but the OP seems to indicate that yes, they pre paid.
posted by Exceptional_Hubris at 9:00 AM on March 1, 2021 [4 favorites]

Response by poster: Yes, we paid it off ahead of completion. The treatment was set up as one inclusive price for all services and tuneups.
posted by JoeZydeco at 9:08 AM on March 1, 2021 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Is it possible to go into the office in person and demand (politely) an answer? If the call center isn't helpful, the receptionist certainly should be able to answer at least some questions. Are you completely unable to even get an appointment? Is there a different orthodontist at the same practice that can see your kid?
posted by GuyZero at 9:18 AM on March 1, 2021 [3 favorites]

Find a good orthodontist now to provide care for your child. Find a good lawyer to get the money owed to you from the previous orthodontist. You may not come out ahead financially doing it this way, but you child will get what they deserve, and so will the deadbeat orthodontist.
posted by SageTrail at 10:21 AM on March 1, 2021 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Depending on your state, there is a state licensing board that can intervene at no cost to you. File a complaint with them, and the practice will have to respond or face disciplinary action. Selling a practice means the new owners are responsible for the case. monies paid to the previous dentist for ongoing cases are figured into the sale price, so they may be slow rolling, but shouldn't be.

In fairness to them, covid has definitely had an impact on dental practices, and 2.5 years is by no means a prolonged case. Patients often only hear what they want to hear, and that goes double for expected dates of completion. complicated ortho cases can persist until the patient has stopped growing, no matter how early they have started, and each child grows at a different rate, so i would hesitate to put any faith in a date until the dentist says "next visit the brackets come off".

If you have a good relationship with you family dentist, perhaps they can refer you to another specialist, few practices refer to only one orthodontist. that practice might do a second opinion for you to ease your mind about how the case stands.
posted by OHenryPacey at 10:57 AM on March 1, 2021 [3 favorites]

Lawyer time, I'm afraid.

Seconding this. I was your son, only in my case we had my ortho continue to give me weird shit at every update and it was a second opinion with my brother's ortho that finally convinced us all that the weird shit my ortho was giving me wasn't doing a damn bit of good. We simply stopped showing up (I had my braces off but had weird retainers and headgear, and I just threw them out).

Harm is being done to your son. This is Not OK.

Seconding this too. My parents had been advised to get a lawyer, but they aren't litigious people and so they didn't. I didn't know that until years later, and when I found out, I had a real problem with that for a while, because I sure as shit would have gotten a lawyer if I'd been of age, and it stung when I learned my parents decided not to support me in that way. I mean, I've since forgiven them, but it hurt for a while.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:56 PM on March 1, 2021 [4 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks, everyone, for your answers.

We've made an appointment with Fabulous tomorrow, so I'm putting together a plan thanks to your feedback. I'm not the type of person to walk in and start yelling LAWYERRRRR!!!! as soon as my coat is off, and I don't want them instantly clamming up and punting issues back to the franchise if I do.

(FYI, there was another ortho at this practice, but isn't there anymore. I'm not sure why. If Fabulous died, everyone would need to go elsewhere I suppose, or the corporation would airdrop someone else in.)

I'm going to ask to speak with Fabulous in person tomorrow and request a written plan, one I can share with our dentist as well as Ortho #2 for a review. If Fab can't/won't provide a plan within 24 or 48 hours then it's off to the state board and a malpractice lawyer for our options. I'd like to have more of a document trail before that happens so this is the route I'm taking.

Don't get me wrong - I'm angry as well, and I appreciate all of you sharing that anger with me. It's made me feel a bit more at ease with how I'm going to fix this. Thanks again, hivemind.
posted by JoeZydeco at 6:42 AM on March 2, 2021 [6 favorites]

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