Protect yourself by verifying professional licenses

Women facing charges for unlicensed dental work.

Your looming dental appointment may be making you anxious enough. You probably don't need anything else to worry about, but here's something to chew on.

Two employees of a Montgomery County dental practice are accused of playing dentist in the office after hours, without being licensed. Patients had teeth pulled, root canals performed and X-rays taken, among other procedures, authorities say.

So before you make an appointment with a dentist, doctor or other medical professional, put yourself at ease and verify they are licensed. That goes for other professionals too, ranging from therapists and real estate agents to car salesmen and funeral directors.

It's not hard to check. You don't have to confront them or have an uncomfortable conversation. It's better to check on your own anyway, in case you do ask and aren't told the truth, as police allege occurred in the Montgomery County case.

Authorities charged Jessica Gullickson and Cheryl Laing of Broomall with various criminal offenses, including unauthorized practice of dentistry and reckless endangerment. The charges were held for court following a preliminary hearing last week.

Police and the district attorney's office said Gullickson and Laing worked at Smilz 4 Life in Bryn Mawr and treated people in the office after hours without the owner's knowledge. Authorities said Laing was employed as a dental assistant but acted as a dentist after hours, and Gullickson was employed as a receptionist but acted as Laing's assistant after hours.

"It's kind of ghoulish," assistant district attorney John Gradel said after Tuesday's hearing. "These people are performing medical procedures that they have no business doing."

This certainly is an extreme case. Not every allegation of unlicensed professional activity comes with such potentially painful or serious consequences. Many don't have any evidence of harm to customers.

But it's wise to check and you can do it without anyone knowing. Call the Pennsylvania Bureau of Professional and Occupational Affairs at 717-787-8503 or verify the license online at http://www.dos.state.pa.us under "licensing" and "verify a license."

Last year, state licensing boards reprimanded more than 200 individuals and businesses for working without active licenses, running unlicensed businesses or running businesses using unlicensed employees.

Some of those were in the Lehigh Valley and surrounding counties.

Last January, the State Board of Dentistry revoked the license of Bethlehem dentist George W. Gordon. It said he had practiced from August 2007 through at least June 2010 while his license was suspended. His license had been suspended in August 2007 because he had practiced on an expired license from April 2003 through at least December 2006, according to board records.

I could not reach him for comment.

In 2010, Gordon admitted to a state investigator that he had continued practicing despite the license suspension, according to the board.

"Dentists are expected to be trusted professionals with the duty and responsibility for the care and safety of their patients," the Board of Dentistry wrote in its order revoking Gordon's license. "The board takes repeated violations of prior board orders very seriously and believes these violations are contrary to the standards of which a dental professional is held."

Also last year, the State Registration Board for Professional Engineers, Land Surveyors and Geologists ordered Mark S. Reese of Richland Township, Bucks County, to repay customers for "offering professional land survey services and/or by practicing professional land survey services" without a license.

I could not reach him for comment.

Reese admitted to the accusations, according to a settlement agreement and order. Customers in Bucks County told the board they had paid Reese for work that later had to be completed by other engineering firms.

Reese told investigators he had been involved in surveying and civil engineering all of his life, according to the settlement. He said he worked for his grandfather, who was an engineer, and then worked with his father's construction firm. He said he earned an engineer's aid/land surveyor rating in the Navy and earned a college degree in construction management.

In the Montgomery County unlicensed dentist case, patients testified Tuesday that Laing injected them with numbing medication, performed a root canal and pulled teeth. They testified that Gullickson took X-rays and assisted Laing.

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