On average, 99.7% of Americans say they believe a smile is a vital asset to have in social situations. But for those Americans who have immigrated from another country — particularly those living in Central Florida — a healthy, beautiful smile can come at a price.
According to a May 23 Orlando Sentinel article, illegal dentistry is on the rise throughout the region — and these illicit, unlicensed dentists are specifically targeting immigrant communities.
“The public really needs to know that it is dangerous,” Chilo Casas, who works with the Florida Department of Health to investigate unlicensed dental activity, said. “You risk your health by going to an unlicensed dentist.”
Casas said many of these dentists come from Brazil, Colombia and Peru — and while they may claim to be licensed in their home countries, they neglect to get the proper licensing to practice their trade in Florida. They typically target people of the same nationality.
For immigrants, visiting an unlicensed dentist’s home or garage for a quick fix is much easier and cheaper than seeking out a properly certified dentist, no matter if one is an undocumented immigrant or a middle-class worker. Many immigrants don’t have access to dental insurance, making an illegal dentist the only choice they have.
However, the health risks of being treated by an illegal dentist are many. According to Casas, patients could end up facing anything from a botched orthodontic job to permanent nerve damage.
“Forget about saving money,” he said. “Think about your health.”
According to state law, any dentist practicing in Florida is required to have attended an American Dental Association Commission on Dental Accreditation-accredited school for at least two years. The individual must then pass several exams and obtain certain certifications in order to gain state licensing.
However, with quality dental care still inaccessible to many immigrants, Josephine Mercado, founder of Hispanic Health Initiatives in Orlando, said it’s doubtful that the immigrant community will stop visiting illegal dentists.
“The Latino communities have their own resources a lot of times because they can’t access the resources for the mainstream communities here,” Molina said. “That’s just part of the culture and I doubt that’s going to change.”
The Florida Department of Health recently launched an advertising campaign to spread awareness about the dangers of these dentists. The department advises anyone with information regarding illegal dentists to call 1-877-HALT-ULA or email MQA.EnforcementULA@flhealth.gov.