What is basement dentistry, and why is it dangerous?

June 23, 2022
This is happening more often, and people are becoming more bold about it: offering illegal dental services for a fraction of the price. Here's what you can do about that.

We hear about this often, especially with the advent of social media—people offering dental services for far less cost in less than desirable settings. I’ve had several people contact me lately about what they’ve seen or heard regarding what I call “basement dentistry.”

Basement dentistry is when someone who has worked in clinical dentistry decides they can perform dental services themselves for much less than what a dentist would charge. Whether they believe they’re providing a vital service, or they think they can do something better, these basement shops are popping up all over. Bottom line is—it is illegal to practice dentistry without a license. Period.

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The practice of dentistry is age old and has evolved into the state-of-the-art profession we know today. General dentists spend four years in dental school learning the proper techniques, plus more for some specialties. The practice of dentistry ensures that dental professionals continue to learn and grow throughout our careers, trying new materials and techniques and gaining valuable experience. 

Some recent examples 

Someone told me about a woman offering classes in composites, veneers, and cosmetic work. She called it a “tour” and was hopping all over the US to teach these classes. It’s not illegal to teach these classes; she wasn’t using a live patient but rather a typodont. Anyone can teach a class in technique, but it’s what her students intend to do with the information that matters. Was she teaching doctors, assistants who plan to use the information to become better? But if her students plan to use the information to perform basement dentistry, that could get them in trouble.

This leads to my next example. Just two days before I heard about this class, a friend told me about the Facebook and Instagram accounts of a local dental assistant who was providing cosmetic services in our area. What the teacher and assistant in these examples don’t know is that they were connected: the assistant providing the basement services took the woman’s class about composites, veneers, and cosmetic work. To say the assistant was brazen enough to post her name, contact information, and what she was offering on social media is an understatement.

It’s happening everywhere 

We hear about these things on the news, but they don’t actually happen in our communities, right? Think again! This sort of thing is happening more often than you realize and it’s dangerous! The infection control aspect, or lack thereof, scares me. Waterline contamination exists in our homes as well. And let’s not forget that someone using a highspeed handpiece has not been properly trained to use it!

Where do these basement dental clinics get their materials? People can’t just purchase many of these things without a license. Often, the materials are obtained through the doctor, clinic, or school where the basement clinic founder works, or the person has someone getting materials for them through illegal means. That could lead to a theft charge to go along with that felony. 

My question to the teacher and dental assistant is: Did you call the board of dentistry? I doubt it. These people are getting away with performing these procedures and they’re becoming more and more brave, even advertising their services online. This must be stopped! 

If you’ve heard of someone who is offering basement dentistry, you have a responsibility to contact the state dental board and report them. Practicing dentistry without a license is considered a felony and can result in jail time and serious fines. No state dental board will take kindly to finding out this is going on right under their noses. 

If you choose to report, have all your ducks in a row and be prepared to provide credible information. Share screenshots, texts, or messages from this person regarding services. Any information you have to make the case is appreciated. The board must see evidence there is a problem, so be sure to give them all they need. 

Remember, this isn’t a joke; it’s truly serious. I’d hate to wait until there was an accident and then find out that this could have been prevented. We must preserve our profession and people’s health!