Parents Are Suing a Popular Chain of Kids' Dentists After 2 Children Die


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When parents take their kids to routine dental checkups, the last thing they expect is to be faced with a medical emergency or the loss of their child. But that tragic outcome became the reality for two separate sets of parents in Yuma, Arizona. Now, one of the families is suing after two children died at the same location of a popular chain of kids' dentists.

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Francisca Lares told ABC 13 her 4-year-old daughter Liseth Lares died just days after a Kool Smiles dentist appointment in Yuma, Arizona, in January 2016. Lares said she took her daughter in for a routine appointment, but after they got home, the little girl developed a fever. The family's attorney Marco Mercaldo told ABC 13 that Lares then contacted the Kool Smiles location to ask for advice. "[The dentist] told the mom essentially there is nothing to worry about, she'll be fine," said Mercaldo. 

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ABC 13

But Liseth had reportedly contracted an infection that spread quickly and ultimately resulted in her death. Now, the Lares family is suing Kool Smiles. Mercaldo shared that the family believes Liseth's death could have been avoided had she been given proper treatment. "The allegation in our case is the dentist at Kool Smiles didn't comply with the standards of care," Mercaldo said.

The news of the Lares's lawsuit comes on the heels of the death of another child at the same Kool Smiles location. On December 16, 2017, 2-year-old Zion Jay Gastelum was dropped off by his parents at the same Yuma, Arizona, Kool Smiles location Lares visited. Gastelum was set to receive a crown and a filling during his appointment. But at some point, either during the procedure or afterward, he stopped breathing.


ABC 15

According to official reports, the Yuma Fire Department responded to a call from Kool Smiles that requested "emergency medical response." An unnamed uncle of Gastelum told ABC 15 the boy was transported from the Kool Smiles dentist location to Yuma Regional Medical Center. From there, he was flown to Maricopa County, where he later died. According to the Maricopa County Medical Examiner's Office, the official cause of Gastelum's death is still pending.

When ABC 15 reached out to Kool Smiles for comment, the company declined, citing HIPAA restrictions and privacy laws, though they did offer an official statement expressing their condolences:

"The Kool Smiles family expresses our sincere, heartfelt sympathy to the family of Zion Gastelum. Our hearts are breaking for Zion’s family at this very sad time. Since Kool Smiles’ founding nearly twenty years ago, we have safely and compassionately provided needed dental care through more than 19 million patient visits. Our dedicated dentists, anesthesiologists and the rest of our Kool Smiles family join the community to mourn this tragic loss."
While both of these deaths took place at the same Kool Smiles location, recent charges against the national chain have many parents feeling unsettled. On Wednesday, January 10, it was announced that Kool Smiles had been forced to pay a $23.9 million settlement to the United States Department of Justice following allegations that the company knowingly made claims for payment to state Medicaid programs for dental procedures performed on children that were found to be "medically unnecessary."

The Department of Justice alleges that between January 2009 and December 2011, Kool Smiles clinics located in 17 different states throughout the country submitted false claims for baby root canals, tooth extractions, and stainless steel crowns. Additionally, they allegedly sought payment for procedures that had never been performed.

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KYMA-TV reports that Kool Smiles allegedly "pressured" dentists with cash bonuses for meeting goals generated by the number of procedures they performed. "The allegations in these cases are particularly egregious because they involved medically unnecessary dental services performed on children," said U.S. Attorney John H. Durham for the District of Connecticut. "Exploiting needy children for financial gain is inexcusable. The U.S. Attorney’s Office in Connecticut is committed to aggressively pursuing health care providers that submit fraudulent claims to government health care programs."
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