Illegal dentistry operation discovered

NAUGATUCK — Blood on the kitchen floor. A beach chair outfitted with lights that sat dental patients. Used syringes scattered about.

Until last week, some area residents subjected themselves to these unsanitary conditions in order to fix a nagging tooth or have a cavity filled inside a one-bedroom east-side apartment. Investigators discovered the illegal dental office last week in a residential neighborhood at 122 Oak St., and now are looking for a Brazilian woman who they believe served patients there without a license.

It is the first time borough officials have investigated an illegal medical operation in anyone’s memory, but it is not unique. Other illegal dentists’ offices, which serve illegal immigrants and/or people who don’t have dental insurance, have been discovered all over the country in the past two years.

In July, police in Florida discovered a 56-year-old East Naples woman was practicing dentistry illegally inside a converted garage. They found a water-powered drill set, dental crown glues, crowns, partial dentures and other items similar to what Naugatuck police discovered Tuesday.

According to The Associated Press, the Florida woman had been a practicing dentist in Mexico but was not licensed in the United States. Naples police said hospital staff notified them when a patient came to them with an infection after being treated by the woman.

Similar cases recently have been reported in Georgia, Utah and New York. In December 2008, Carlos Flores, who gave his patients wine from a jug to help them cope with pain, was charged with practicing dentistry without a license in Peekskill, N.Y., about 45 miles north of Manhattan, according to The Associated Press.

Naugatuck resident Zenira Pereira, who emigrated here from Para, Brazil in 1978 and visits her homeland regularly, said makeshift dentists are not common in her native country.

“You go to a regular certified dentist,” she said, adding that she had never heard of an illegal dental practice until last week.

Rep. Rosa Rebimbas, R-Naugatuck, said she has been informed many times from people in the Brazilian community that immigrants have sought medical attention outside the United States because of the high cost here.

“It’s unfortunate because they run the risk of needing follow-up care,” Rebimbas said. “I think any type of unlicensed medical service, no matter who you are, is unacceptable and it puts the community at risk.”

She said there are local services available to people who do not have insurance, such as the Waterbury Health Access Program, which provides medical care to Greater Waterbury’s uninsured patients.

The Hispanic Coalition of Greater Waterbury, which serves between 3,000 and 4,000 patients a year, has been dealing recently with an influx of unemployed and uninsured minorities, said case worker Miriam Echevarria. She said she refers people to various state and local agencies to help them find medical care.

“But it’s been hard,” she said. “A lot of people have not been able to get services at emergency rooms because they don’t have insurance, and other than referring them to agencies, there’s not much we can do.”

Before last week, Echevarria had never heard of an illegal medical office and said she would strongly discourage people from attending one.

The illegal Naugatuck dental office operated on the second floor of a 2,000-square-foot home owned by Denis Rosa and Claudia Pena, according to land use records. Rosa said the woman, whose name he would not reveal, rents the room for storage.

Lt. Robert Harrison, Naugatuck police spokesman, said Friday police are still searching for the woman and would not reveal her name. As of Friday, he had not heard of any complaints from people who received dental services from the woman.

He said police want to talk with her to determine what type of licensing, if any, she has. Detectives are working with the state Department of Public Health to determine whether the woman might face civil or criminal charges, he said.

Anyone with information is asked to contact the police department at 729-5222. All calls will be kept confidential.