Terry Mitchell’s dentist decided to retire in the early 2000s. Mitchell, a 50-year-old electrician, had avoided going to the dentist for a time because he was having so much trouble. However, when one of his wisdom teeth began to hurt, he decided to seek for a different dentist. Mitchell’s friend John Roger Lund, whose clinic was a handy 10-minute walk from Mitchell’s house in San Jose, California, was suggested to him by another acquaintance. Located in a one-story structure with clay roof tiles, Lund’s business was one of several dental offices located in the building at the time. However, the inside looked a bit antiquated rather than dismal. The waiting area was tiny, and the décor was sparse: a few plants and pictures, but no live fish in sight. A good-looking middle-aged man with arched eyebrows, round spectacles, and graying hair that framed a young face, Lund stood out among the crowd. He was affable, talkative, and cheerful throughout the conversation. Mitchell and Lund were both owners of Chevrolet Chevelles at the time, and they became friends as a result of their shared interest in vintage automobiles.
Mitchell started visiting Lund on a regular basis after his wisdom teeth was successfully removed without problems. Despite the fact that he had no discomfort or new concerns, Lund pushed him to undergo a slew of further treatments. Typically, a person will only need one or two root canals in their lifetime. Mitchell had nine root canals and an equal number of crowns from Lund over the course of seven years. Mitchell’s insurance only covered a tiny part of each operation, resulting in a total out-of-pocket expense of about $50,000. He was unconcerned about the number of treatments or the expense of each one. He had no clue that having so many root canals was uncommon; he assumed they were just as frequent as fillings, which he was wrong about. The payments were made over a rather lengthy period of time, which allowed for more flexibility. And he put his entire faith in Lund. In his mind, it made sense to receive the therapies now rather than later when the situation became more serious. He was right.
The same thing was going on with another one of Lund’s patients at the same time. A businesswoman in her 50s, Joyce Cordi had heard about Lund via the 1-800-DENTIST hotline. She recalls the service, and she gave him a good rating at the time. Before her first visit to Lund in 1999, she had never had even the slightest toothache or a cavity. According to what she knew, her teeth were in excellent condition, despite the fact that she had a tiny dental bridge put to correct a rare congenital abnormality when she was younger (she was born with one tooth trapped inside another and had had them extracted). Within a year, Lund began to have concerns about the durability of her bridge, and her dentist informed her that she required root canals and crowns.
Cordi was puzzled, to say the least. The sudden need for so many treatments after decades of excellent oral health is puzzling. Lund, she claims, was always prepared to provide an explanation when she voiced apprehension. He informed her that the cavity on this tooth was in the incorrect location to be treated with a conventional filling on one occasion. He revealed to her that her gums were receding, which had resulted in tooth decay at a subsequent appointment. It was obvious that she had been grinding her teeth. And, after all, she was getting on in years. Cordi had grown up with a very positive attitude toward medical practitioners, having been reared as the daughter of a doctor. Lund was adamant, and she eventually consented to the treatments. Cordi had ten root canals and ten crowns performed by Lund over the course of a decade. Her bridge was also removed by him and replaced with two new ones, which created a noticeable gap between her upper and lower teeth. In total, she spent about $70,000 on the project.
Lund announced his retirement in early 2012. Brendon Zeidler, a young dentist seeking to grow his practice, purchased Lund’s clinic and took responsibility for the patients under his supervision. The suspicions of Zeidler that something was wrong started to grow after just a few months. Lund’s financial records showed that the company had achieved remarkable success, but Zeidler was only receiving 10 to 25 percent of Lund’s stated profits each month, according to the documents. A troubling pattern emerged when Zeidler met more of Lund’s former patients: many of them had had significant dental treatment, a far higher percentage than he would have predicted given the nature of the practice. When Zeidler informed patients that they did not need any extra procedures at the time of their regular examinations or cleanings, they tended to express surprise and concern: Was he certain? Is there nothing at all? Was he certain he’d done everything right?
During the summer, Zeidler decided to dig a little more into Lund’s professional background. He collected years’ worth of dental records and invoices for Lund’s patients and started to go through them one by one, scrutinizing each one for accuracy. It took him many months to finish the procedure. What he discovered was really shocking. We have a tense connection with dentists because they are considered authoritative people. In informal conversation, we frequently reject them as “not real physicians,” considering them to be more of a mechanical component of the oral cavity. Fear, on the other hand, tempers such contempt. In certain circles, dentistry has been likened to torture on a half-joking basis for more than a century. As a result of survey results, it is estimated that up to 61 percent of individuals are fearful of going to the dentist, maybe 15 percent are so nervous that they avoid the dentist almost completely, and a lesser proportion has a real fear of the dentist that requires psychiatric care.