In her months as a patient at the Paulding County family dental clinic, Yvonne Arrington saw a revolving door of people she believed to be dentists and dental professionals. Upon each visit, she said, it seemed that she was escorted to the examination chair by a different person in a white lab coat.
But among all the clinic’s employees, Krista Szewczyk was the face she would never forget. Szewczyk performed procedures that Arrington said bruised her gums and resulted in dangling and uneven teeth. At least once, she said, Szewczyk scraped out bone fragments from her gums after a botched extraction of five teeth. Arrington, who was not sedated during the procedure, said she was told she needed the extractions because of her rheumatoid arthritis.
“My smile is something that used to be my signature,” Arrington said. “I felt that’s something she took away from me. I really trusted these people.”
Arrington is among dozens of patients coming to terms with the fact that some of the most painful procedures they endured were performed by an unlicensed dentist and possibly unnecessary. A Paulding County grand jury acted this month to indict Szewczyk on four dozen counts of illegal dentistry, fraud and forgery. She also was charged in Cobb County with doing unlicensed dental work.
Many now question how Szewczyk got away with the deception for so long. She incorporated County Dental Providers in late 2011, and prosecutors say she operated clinics since at least 2013. The Georgia Board of Dentistry, whose prime responsibility is protecting dental patients, knew by at least 2014 that she may have been violating the law.
But rather than issue a cease and desist order and impose fines, as the board has done nearly four dozen times since 2000 to stop those accused of practicing dentistry without a license, the board referred the case to prosecutors.
It took years for law enforcement to finally stop Szewczyk. A prosecutor in the Tallapoosa Judicial Circuit first tried, allowing her into a pretrial diversion program in 2014.
But she continued to practice, opening a new clinic in Marietta, said Dick Donovan, the district attorney for the Paulding Judicial Circuit, who brought criminal charges against her last month.
While the board itself doesn’t have the power to seek criminal charges against those performing dental services without a license, it could have filed a lawsuit or asked a court for an injunction to immediately stop the illegal activity.
But it rarely does that, board minutes show.
Nor will the board tell anyone who asks if a clinic or dental professional is under investigation. By law, the board can only release information on dentists following an investigation when action is taken. However, the board is allowed to acknowledge an investigation into the unlicensed practice of dentistry.
Current board president Dr. Richard Bennett and former board president Dr. Thomas Godfrey did not return phone messages from The Atlanta Journal-Constitution seeking comment.
In a written statement, a board spokesman said the board “strongly encourages” the public to use its license verification website to make sure that their dentist has a current license. The public also can look for the license to be displayed at a “conspicuous place” at their business, the board wrote in response to questions from The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
At the Dallas clinic, Arrington said that no one disputed that Szewcyzk was a dentist. She would often train other employees to perform dental work.
“She called herself a doctor,” Arrington said. “She always had something to say as far as training the other people. She would tell them, ‘This is how we learned to do this.’ She would come in and assist and show them how they should be doing impressions.
“She would make us feel comfortable, like she knew what she was doing. I always thought she was trained in some aspect of dentistry.”
Szewcyzk’s attorney did not return repeated calls for comment. Phone numbers associated with her had been disconnected.
Caught practicing illegally
Szewczyk’s is a classic example of why the practice of illegal dentistry often goes unabated and why the public’s concerns often fall on deaf ears unless there is a party in law enforcement willing to dedicate resources to investigate.
Donovan doesn’t remember how he first heard that Szewczyk was apparently posing as a dentist. It might have been a phone call or an email. But it was the Board of Dentistry that alerted his office, he said.
An official from the board informed his office of complaints against Szewczyk in Donovan’s jurisdiction.
But Donovan said he was forced to refer the case to another district attorney’s office after a conflict of interest was discovered: Szewcyzk was married to one of the deputy sheriffs who worked at the county courthouse.
“We found out she was the wife of someone we knew very well and someone in the law enforcement community that we knew well,” Donovan said.
Jack Browning, the district attorney who serves the Tallapoosa Judicial Circuit, agreed to take the case, Donovan said. Browning’s office placed Szewcyzk on pretrial diversion in 2014. Under the program, she would keep a clean record as long as she stayed out of trouble for 12 months.
That didn’t happen, Donovan said; Szewcyzk transferred the business to an office on Roswell Street in Marietta.
“When I found out she was continuing in her evil ways … I turned it over to one of my investigators,” Donovan said. By then, Szewcyzk’s husband had quit his job. The Paulding investigator worked the case with the dental board’s lone investigator for over a year, Donovan said.
Many of Szewcyzk’s referrals, Donovan said, were from the sheriff’s department where her husband worked. “She would tell people in the sheriff’s department, ‘I’ll do it for whatever the insurance company will pay,’ ” Donovan said.
She didn’t even stop after her arrest on a first warrant in August, Donovan said.
“The next day, she was back in the office doing the same thing,” he said.
Shortly after that, deputies raided her home in Dallas.
Donovan said his office has received more than 40 calls from victims who saw media reports of Szewcyzk’s arrest.
Last week, Marietta suspended the clinic’s business license. A closed sign on the office door included the name and number of a licensed dentist. He did not return a call for comment. Dental board records show that he received a waiver from the board in July to be able to practice in Georgia without passing the licensure exam. The board said the waiver was justified because he had 35 years of service, board minutes show. He previously worked in California.
It was no secret to others in the Dallas dental office that Szewczyk was hurting patients, Arrington said.
That raises the question of whether the licensed dentists that Szewczyk employed or dental hygienists who may have worked at her clinic covered for her.
Arrington said several employees in the Dallas office expressed concern about the root tips that were left in her gums. Others saw her sobbing in the examination chair and tried to console her.
And then there were those who helped Szewczyk more directly, Arrington said. In a number of cases, she said, Szewczyk would bring in another white-coated worker, purportedly a licensed dentist, to persuade Arrington to have additional dental work done. “They would say, “Yvonne, let’s go ahead and do it today and get that done,’” Arrington said.
Szewczyk and another employee convinced her to get an implant, for example, she said. She said Szewczyk told her that the implant would take six months to heal.
But, “the fake tooth kept bouncing off. I couldn’t eat. I couldn’t bite. One time, it bounced out of my mouth while I was giving a presentation at work.”
Georgia law allows the dentistry board to sanction anyone who “knowingly performed any act, in any way aids, assists, procures, advises or encourages any unlicensed person or any licensee whose license has been suspended or revoked by the board to practice dentistry.”
The board did not respond to questions about whether additional persons at Szewczyk’s dental offices were under board investigation or would be referred to law enforcement.
Donovan, however, said he had heard comments about other non-licensed employees performing dental services at Szewczyk’s offices. He said he wouldn’t be surprised if more indictments were handed down over the next few months.
He said his office was ready to go after lawbreakers.
“We’re doing everything we can,” he said.