AJC Watchdog: First Alert

Keeping watch on those who hold the public trust and money.

Amid Medicaid fraud case, GA put accused dentist on a regulatory panel


"The fox guards the henhouse" in Georgia. That’s how a critic sees the appointment of a top officer of a Marietta-based company to a state disciplinary board.

In 2016, Gov. Nathan Deal put Dale G. Mayfield on the Georgia Board of Dentistry, where he helped make decisions about licensing, sanctioning and regulating fellow dentists.

But while he served, Mayfield – chief dental officer of the Kool Smiles chain of dental clinics – was being accused by the U.S. Department of Justice of helping to plan and carry out policies to defraud Medicaid in eight states, an alleged scheme that involved painful procedures on needy children. The state of Georgia was even a party to that lawsuit.

"Georgia deserves a lot better," Santa Fe, NM, dentist and industry consultant Michael Davis told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Davis, a persistent critic of Kool Smiles, has called Mayfield's board appointment "regulatory capture," where instead of the government regulating a company, "the fox guards the henhouse."

"We’ve got to have, on all of our state regulatory boards, individuals without any appearance of a conflict of interest, who are going to place the interests of the public first and foremost," Davis said.

The 2013 federal lawsuit described excruciating, unnecessary dental work done on children, all so Kool Smiles could file more Medicaid claims. Dentists did root canals on baby teeth without proper anesthesia, while keeping parents out of the room to “keep hidden the child’s suffering,” the complaint said. Dentists were encouraged to restrain reluctant patients with papoose boards, wrapping them in a cocoon-like fabric to hold them still, the government alleged.

Georgia's own Department of Community Health had investigated Mayfield's company for "patterns of over-utilization of services" and "unusual patterns of patient restraint," along with its "over-utilization of stainless steel crowns."

PBS' Frontline had even aired an expose on Kool Smiles' in 2012.

Yet in early 2016, Mayfield somehow sailed onto the Board of Dentistry, where he helped make scores of decisions affecting how dentistry is conducted throughout the state.

How Mayfield came to Gov. Deal's attention remains unclear, as does the level of scrutiny the governor's office gave to his application.

In light of Kool Smiles' recent $23.9 million settlement with the feds and three whistleblowers, and with the AJC asking pointed questions of Deal's office about Mayfield remaining on the board, the governor made a major change earlier this week.

Read more about the AJC's continuing investigation, and the allegations against Mayfield and Kool Smiles, at MyAJC.com.


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About the Author

Johnny Edwards is a member of the AJC’s investigative team, focusing on the private sector and state and federal regulation. He has worked at the newspaper since 2010.